BOONE, N.C. (AP) — Darrynton Evans scored three touchdowns and 20th-ranked Appalachian State repeated as Sun Belt Conference champions with a 45-38 victory over Louisiana-Lafayette on Saturday.
Evans won the game’s MVP for the second straight season.
Zac Thomas threw for 149 yards and two touchdowns and Daetrich Harrington and Marcus Williams added touchdown runs. The Mountaineers racked up 416 yards on offense, including 267 on the ground in a dominating first half.
The Mountaineers (12-1, 8-1 Sun Belt) accomplished something North Carolina, Duke, North Carolina State and Wake Forest never have — becoming the first FBS team from North Carolina to win 12 games in a season.
Appalachian State defeated Lafayette 17-7 early this season on the road, but this one wasn’t nearly as competitive.
The Mountaineers entered the game averaging 38.9 points per game and showed their firepower in the first half by scoring touchdowns on their first five possessions — the first three by Evans — to build a 35-14 lead.
Thomas got things going when he found Evans on a perfectly executed screen pass on third-and-15, resulting in a 58-yard touchdown less than two minutes into the game. After defensive tackle E.J. Scott forced and recovered a fumble at midfield on Lafayette’s next possession, the Mountaineers cashed in with a 8-yard touchdown run by Evans. Then Thomas made it 21-0 when he connected with Evans in the flat for a 5-yard score.
Levi Lewis threw for a Sun Belt championship game-record 354 yards and four touchdowns for Lafayette (10-3, 8-2). But the left-hander turned the ball over twice, including an interception that returned 16 yards for a score by linebacker Josh Thomas in the third quarter that gave App State a 42-17 lead.
The Mountaineers could eclipse a school record if they move up higher than No. 20 in the AP poll. Their current ranking tied a school record set earlier this season before they briefly fell out of the top 25 with their only loss to division rival Georgia Southern.
Lafayette: After limiting the Mountaineers to 17 points and keeping Evans in check in the first meeting, the Ragin’ Cajuns didn’t seem remotely prepared for what was coming this time around. Their defensive line got nearly no penetration on the QB, and when they did they were fooled by screen passes. Giving up five TDs on five possessions is never a good look, although they did keep App State in check in the second half.
Appalachian State: The Mountaineers looked like a well-oiled machine on offense with its big front controlling the line of scrimmage by blowing off the ball. There wasn’t anything the Mountaineers couldn’t do right — run up the middle, run wide or throw the ball — in the first half. The Mountaineers had a scary moment when Thomas just hit on a sack-fumble in the third quarter and remained on the field for several minutes. But the junior quarterback didn’t miss any plays and returned to the game.
Both teams will wait to hear where they’re headed to play in bowl games on Sunday.