Last Updated on December 3, 2021 10:36 am
LAFAYETTE, La. — Another Sun Belt Championship Game showdown — this time on the Bayou instead of in Boone.
East Division champion App State (10-2) faces West Division champion and 20th-ranked Louisiana (11-1) on Saturday in a nationally televised title game at Cajun Field. Available on ESPN, the game is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. ET (2:30 p.m. CT).
App State and Louisiana have played in the only two contested championship games to date, with Kidd Brewer Stadium hosting 2018 and 2019 victories by the Mountaineers. The Ragin' Cajuns also qualified for the 2020 championship, which was canceled because of COVID issues.
App State's only league loss during the 2021 regular season was a 41-13 defeat on Oct. 12 at Louisiana, which went 8-0 in league play. The Mountaineers won their seven other Sun Belt games, notably beating bowl-bound opponents Georgia State and Coastal Carolina directly before and after the first Lafayette trip of the season.
“Each time we've had a championship game, it's been Louisiana and Appalachian State,” App State head coach Shawn Clark said. “I think we know how to handle it, but this is the first time we've traveled for a championship game, so we'll keep it consistent with how we do things. I think it's great for college football, and the two best teams in our conference are playing for a conference championship.”
The success of the Mountaineers and Ragin' Cajuns extends beyond a productive last three months.
Since App State joined the Sun Belt in 2014, the two programs rank first and second, respectively, among league members in overall wins, with App State at 80-22 and Louisiana next at 63-38.
The current leaders of both programs are also in elite company, as Clark is one of only six active FBS head coaches to have won at least 80 percent of their games — his 20-5 record puts him at exactly 80 percent, tied with Dabo Swinney. Billy Napier is seventh on the list of top active winning percentages at 76.5 going into his final game as Louisiana's head coach — Florida has officially hired Napier to be the Gators' next coach.
App State won the first eight games in a series that now stands at 8-2, with Saturday's matchup being the seventh time they will have played in a span of 38 months.
“We have a pretty good feel for what they're going to do, and they have a good feel for what we're going to do,” Clark said. “Really, it's about going out there, and our best players have to play their best to give us a chance to win.”
The Mountaineers committed four turnovers, went 0-for-11 on third down, gave up 246 rushing yards and allowed 209 passing yards to elusive, left-handed quarterback Levi Lewis in mid-October. App State trailed 27-13 when it reached the UL 32 in the third quarter, but the Ragin' Cajuns forced a punt and produced a 98-yard touchdown drive to blow the game open.
A lot of the numbers from that lopsided loss are exceptions from a regular season in which a group led by Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year D'Marco Jackson allowed per-game averages of 18.9 points and 319.4 yards, including 113.1 rushing yards. In fact, App State has allowed an average of only 2.7 yards per carry in its 10 wins.
App State running back Camerun Peoples missed the Louisiana game with an injury, and quarterback Chase Brice has totaled 14 touchdown passes with four turnover-free games during the team's six-game winning streak to close the regular season. He was named the Sun Belt Newcomer of the Year on Thursday.
“Our guys are excited, and this is why you come to school here,” Clark said. “You come here to get a world-class degree and play for championships. All of our goals are in front of us, and we look forward to a great game on Saturday.”