Last Updated on November 27, 2021 6:16 pm
BOONE, N.C. — Cruising into the end zone for his final touchdown at Kidd Brewer Stadium, Thomas Hennigan took a bow and blew a kiss before his teammates joined him for a high-flying celebration.
For App State's large class of seniors, a rivalry win at The Rock was a perfect way to head into the postseason.
A dominant defensive effort kept the Georgia Southern offense in check, and super seniors accounted for all of the Mountaineers' scores in a 27-3 victory against the Eagles on Saturday. Winner of the Sun Belt's East Division, App State will play at Louisiana next Saturday in the conference championship game on ESPN.
Hennigan, Malik Williams and Jalen Virgil scored touchdowns, and Chandler Staton became App State's career scoring leader on a day in which he made two field goals.
The Mountaineers recorded four sacks and held Georgia Southern to 194 yards in posting the stingiest defensive showing against the Eagles since a 19-0 playoff shutout in 1987. In the final four games of the regular season, the Mountaineers allowed a combined 31 points.
The victory gave App State its fifth 10-win season in the last seven seasons, and the Mountaineers' average home attendance of 30,441 this season set Sun Belt and program records.
App State led just 10-3 after Georgia Southern made a 38-yard field goal in the final minute of the third quarter, but Virgil returned the ensuing kickoff 97 yards for the score, giving him a special teams touchdown against the Eagles for the second straight year and allowing him to tie Darrynton Evans' school record of three career kickoff returns for touchdowns.
Just a few minutes later, after another App State defensive stop, the Mountaineers needed only one play for Brice to hit Hennigan for a 68-yard score.
Brice threw for 235 yards with two scores, and Hennigan finished with three catches for 111 yards.
Seniors were App State's top five tacklers, led by super senior Kaiden Smith's nine stops, including one tackle for loss. Nick Hampton had two sacks, followed by one apiece from Demetrius Taylor and Brendan Harrington, while D'Marco Jackson and Caleb Spurlin had seven tackles apiece.
App State limited Georgia Southern's time-consuming offense scoreless in the first half, but the Mountaineers had only four offensive drives before the break while being doubled up in possession time.
The Eagles' essentially had the ball for nearly 10 minutes to begin the game, as Taylor recovered the ball after he forced a fumble on a sack, but he lost the ball on his return attempt. That 16-play sequence ended with a Georgia Southern punt from the App State 44, and the Mountaineers responded with an eight-play, 80-yard touchdown march.
Completions of 18 and 25 yards to Hennigan pushed App State into Georgia Southern territory, and Brice completed a fourth-and-9 pass to Williams for a 36-yard touchdown.
App State threatened to score right before the half, reaching the Georgia Southern 31, but a fourth-down loss gave the ball back to the Eagles, and they used a 26-yard pass to move to the edge of field-goal range. A 51-yard attempt to end the half was no good.