Two days before it plays in the Sun Belt Championship Game as the East Division's…
A 20-play drive put Georgia State in position to score first in statement-making fashion during the opening quarter Saturday, but Andrew Parker Jr. pounced on a second-and-goal fumble caused by fellow linebackers Trevor Moffitt and Donovan Spellman inside the 10-yard line.
By the fourth quarter, the Panthers were still trying to break through with their first points and App State was well on its way to a 42-14 road victory.
The result enabled the Mountaineers (6-4, 4-2 Sun Belt) to clinch bowl eligibility with two games remaining in the regular season and extend their winning streak to three games in advance of next weekend’s trip to James Madison with ESPN’s College GameDay airing from Harrisonburg, Va.
“I’m just very proud of our football team and everyone involved — really, over the last nine quarters,” App State head coach Shawn Clark said. “We’ve lost some close games throughout the year, but I love this football team. They continue to fight, continue to play for each other and for our fans. Today was another great example of playing four quarters of complementary football.”
Anderson Castle’s touchdown run on the first play of the fourth quarter — the Mountaineers (6-4, 4-2 Sun Belt) also scored on the first play of the second and third quarters — pushed the lead to 35-0 before App State wrapped up a league win that improved its all-time record to 10-0 against the Panthers (6-4, 3-4).
The Mountaineers responded to Parker’s recovery by scoring just four plays later, with Joey Aguilar’s 23-yard completion to David Larkins on third down and Nate Noel’s 61-yard touchdown run capping a 92-yard change of direction. Noel and Kanye Roberts combined for 163 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 19 attempts, and Aguilar’s 255-yard day on 14-of-21 passing included touchdown strikes to Makai Jackson, Kaedin Robinson and Dalton Stroman.
Parker had a career-high 14 tackles, including two behind the line of scrimmage, and safety EJ Jackson contributed nine as App State’s defense held an opposing offense to less than 265 yards for the second straight week. In addition to the early turnover near the goal line, Trenton Alan Yowe made an end-zone interception late in the first half in a 21-0 game, and Michael Fletcher recorded a sack as part of the defense’s 10 tackles for loss.
“We were playing fast and playing violent,” Parker said. “We took it as a challenge to go out there and play with that edge.”
Jackson’s 44-yard touchdown reception to open the second quarter increased the lead to 14-0, and Stroman’s 77-yard touchdown on the first play of the second half made it 28-0. Jackson also had a 45-yard reception, which set up Robinson’s second-quarter touchdown from 3 yards out.
Emotions began running high just inside of two hours before kickoff, as App State’s pregame prayer circle at midfield (immediately after the team’s buses unloaded) was interrupted by the arrival of Georgia State team members who were entering the stadium through the stands behind one end zone, with one recognizable GSU staff member leading the Panthers onto the field and toward the 50-yard line.
Nothing serious or troublesome happened as both sides congregated and traded words, but it provided additional energy to the Mountaineers on a cold, rainy afternoon in front of an announced crowd of 14,260 at Center Parc Stadium. The Panthers had outscored their opponents 63-30 in the first quarter this season, but the big swing created by the fumble and long Noel touchdown got App State off on the right foot.
“Nate came out and ran the ball hard,” Clark said. “It really started in pregame. We came out to circle the field, and they didn’t want us to circle the field to say our prayer. You mess with the bull, you get the horn.”
App State had a 425-123 advantage in total yards after Castle’s touchdown and Michael Hughes’ extra point delivered a 35-0 lead. Georgia State quarterback Darren Grainger went 9-for-21 for 30 yards through three quarters before finishing with 115 passing yards with 15 completions on 28 attempts, and the Panthers averaged 3.0 yards per carry while accumulating 139 rushing yards on 47 attempts.
App State’s balanced offense featured a season-high 254 rushing yards — the 255 passing yards meant 509 yards in total offense — with a per-carry average of 6.5 yards. Roberts’ 26-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter immediately followed a 20-yard gain, and Castle’s touchdown earlier in the quarter was a highlight-reel moment for a veteran who had missed the first eight games of this season recovering from an August foot injury.
“Our guys came out ready to go,” starting center and team captain Isaiah Helms said. “We brought the energy and played complementary football all the way around.”