BOONE, N.C. — One home game down. At least one more big one to go.
Returning to Boone for the last two games of the regular season, App State posted a 45-17 victory against Sun Belt Conference foe Georgia State to set up a winner-take-all finale with East Division leader Troy next weekend at Kidd Brewer Stadium. If the Mountaineers (8-2, 6-1) beat the Trojans (9-2, 7-0) to win the division via the head-to-head tiebreaker, they would host the inaugural Sun Belt Championship Game on Dec. 1.
“We just had a business-like approach, and it’s a great win,” App State head coach Scott Satterfield said. “It puts us in position for next week against Troy, whoever wins is playing for the conference championship at their home field. You couldn’t have asked for anything better at this point in the season.”
On Black Saturday at The Rock, Desmond Franklin's two interceptions included a 26-yard return for a third-quarter touchdown that followed pressure from Anthony Flory, who had seven tackles to help lead a group that limited the Panthers (2-9, 1-6) to 132 passing yards.
App State quarterback Zac Thomas accounted for four touchdowns, including three through the air as he completed 20 of his 24 passes for 282 yards, and Darrynton Evans rushed for a 56-yard touchdown to highlight a 15-carry, 127-yard performance. Corey Sutton also had a 100-yard day, catching four first-half passes for 101 yards and one score.
In the first quarter alone, Sutton had a 39-yard touchdown and a 40-yard reception.
“Last week, on deep balls, especially to Corey, we were taking (the receivers) off their tracks where they’re having to find the ball and are getting stopped and the defense is making a play that shouldn’t be made,” Thomas said. “That was a big emphasis coach (Frank) Ponce made this week in practice — to keep the receivers on their tracks and don’t slow them down.”
The other touchdown catches in a penalty-free effort from the Mountaineers came from freshman tight end Henry Pearson and Dominique Heath, as Thomas increased his season totals to 16 passing touchdowns and seven rushing touchdowns with just four interceptions.
Georgia State used a 7-yard touchdown pass on the game's opening drive to take a brief lead, but App State responded with a four-play, 75-yard series that ended with Thomas' 39-yard touchdown pass to Sutton. Freshman tight end Henry Pearson hurdled a defender close to the end zone on a 10-yard touchdown reception with 3:16 left in the opening quarter, and Chandler Staton's 23-yard field goal 11 seconds before halftime gave the Mountaineers a 17-7 advantage heading into the break.
Thomas scored on a 1-yard keeper about six minutes into the third quarter, and Franklin scooped up a low, desperate throw toward Georgia State's bench before racing untouched down the left sideline.
“The coaches called the right calls to put us in the right spot, and I was really trying to bait him into making some throws,” Franklin said. “He made them, and I just went up and made the plays.”
The Panthers trailed 31-10 when Thomas hit Dominique Heath for a 21-yard touchdown on the second play of the fourth quarter, and Franklin's 38-yard interception return from the App State 6 to the 44 preceded Evans' touchdown run on the second play of the next series. Georgia State quarterback Dan Ellington entered the weekend with only two interceptions and touchdown passes on the season.
The game also featured the official return of sophomore running back Daetrich Harrington, who suffered a knee injury in February and rushed for 16 yards on four carries in his first game action of the season.