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Facing a bitter rival, with a highly anticipated jersey retirement to boot, there were plenty of reasons to celebrate on Senior Day at The Rock.
Particularly with the action-packed outcome extending App State’s pursuit of a championship ring.
The Mountaineers secured an East Division title and clinched a spot in next weekend’s Sun Belt Championship Game at West Division champion Troy by dominating the final three quarters in a 55-27 home victory against Georgia Southern.
“Our kids kept believing in one another,” head coach Shawn Clark said. “When you believe in the Black and Gold and bleed it every single day, good things will happen.”
Joey Aguilar’s four touchdown passes allowed him to become the program’s single-season record-holder with 33 heading into the postseason, and App State (8-4, 6-2) scored 20 points of the four turnovers it forced, including three interceptions. Tyrek Funderburk produced two of those, and the Mountaineers scored immediately with short fields following takeaways on a fumbled kickoff return and Jordan Favors’ interception.
App State fell behind 14-3 in the opening quarter, but that double-digit number didn’t have any negative connotations by the time Hall of Fame quarterback Armanti Edwards’ beloved No. 14 was officially retired at the half. His short, direct message to the crowd: “Thank you! Go App!”
The Mountaineers turned an 11-point deficit — Edwards originally wanted No. 11 when he arrived in Boone — into a 41-17 lead with a 38-3 run over the span of 16 lopsided minutes from midway through the second quarter to halfway through the third. The run increased to 45-3 — with 31 consecutive App State points — when Aguilar’s fourth touchdown pass of the day contributed to Kaedin Robinson’s second score of the game early in the fourth quarter.
Moments earlier, with the entire team huddled near midfield at the quarter break, Clark emphatically waved his arms to fire up students from the crowd of 31,248. Sitting at 3-4 overall and 1-2 in league play following an Oct. 21 loss, App State closed the regular season with five straight wins to earn a spot in the Sun Belt title game for the fourth time since the inaugural contest in 2018.
An overtime road win against previously unbeaten and postseason-ineligible James Madison last weekend kept the Mountaineers alive in the championship chase. They needed a win against Georgia Southern and a bounce-back victory from JMU at Coastal Carolina to overtake the Chanticleers in the division race, and JMU won 56-14 in Conway, S.C.
Trailing 14-3, App State scored its initial points on a field goal that followed a Funderburk interception, and the Mountaineers used two more forced turnovers to outscore Georgia Southern (6-6, 3-5) by a 24-3 margin over the final eight minutes of the half.
App State pulled within 14-10 on Aguilar’s 27-yard touchdown pass to Robinson midway through the second quarter, and the Mountaineers quickly took over at the Eagles’ 13 after Trevor Moffitt recovered a fumble caused on kickoff return hits from Andre Hamilton and Ahmani Marshall.
On the next play, pulling offensive linemen Bucky Williams and Isaiah Helms created a cutback lane for Kanye Roberts — with his No. 14 jersey moving in a blur — to waltz into the end zone for a 13-yard score 16 seconds after Robinson’s touchdown.
Georgia Southern converted a 38-yard field goal to tie the score at 17-all, but App State put up 10 points in the final 55 seconds of the half.
Aguilar needed only 98 seconds to direct a seven-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that ended with a 41-yard touchdown reception by Christan Horn, who made a catch on a comeback route at the Georgia Southern 28, spun out of two tackles and sprinted down the right side for a go-ahead touchdown.
Funderburk broke up a pass on the first play of the next drive, then intercepted a second-down throw and returned the ball 17 yards to the Georgia Southern 39. Michael Hughes knocked in a 28-yard field goal as the half ended to push the margin to double figures.
App State opened the second half with possession, but an interception near the end zone gave Georgia Southern hopes for new life. Favors intercepted a rollout throw on the next play and returned the ball 14 yards to the Georgia Southern 2 to set up Aguilar’s touchdown pass to Eli Wilson.
The rout was on from there, as Anderson Castle and Maquel Haywood also scored rushing touchdowns on a day in which App State rushed for 236 yards and threw for 296 yards.
It was another complete effort to cap a regular season in which App State kept digging and digging to earn a shot at another championship.