By David Rogers. BOONE, N.C. — Win the turnover battle. CHECK. Make the right adjustments. CHECK. Pummel your opponent into submission. CHECK. Impress the storied alumni players in attendance. CHECK CHECK.
The final score says it all: Appalachian State 55, Georgia Southern 27.
Although the game may not have lived up to its “Deeper than Hate” pre-game description for bitterness and fisticuffs, the Nov. 25 edition of the ongoing rivalry had a lot of storylines, both inside the game as well as outside the contest.
There was the record-setting performance by Mountaineer quarterback Joey Aguilar, whose four touchdown passes gave him 33 TD aerials for the 2023 campaign, surpassing the previous record of 31 passes in a single season set by Taylor Lamb in 2015. He is within about 80 yards of the all-time passing yards in a single season, with two games to go (Sun Belt Championship and an expected bowl game.
Aguilar has reached almost folk hero status among the AppNation faithful after throwing for a TD on his first pass as a Mountaineer vs. Gardner Webb on Sept. 2, with three more TD passes to follow when he came on in relief of Ryan Burger (broken finger). “Joey California” may have been edged out for the starting job by Burger in the preseason, but it is going to take a lot to take it from him after what he has done since being given the opportunity.
Aguilar completed 23 of 36 passes for 296 yards and four TDs vs.1 interception, helping the Mountaineers do their part in making a trip to Troy next week as the East Division representative in the Sun Belt Conference Championship Game.
Last week’s Mountaineer victim, James Madison, did its part, too, by clobbering Coastal Carolina, 56-14, paving the way for App State to advance to the title game. Technically, James Madison won the East Division title with just the one loss to the Mountaineers, but is ineligible to play in the championship game the first two years since joining the conference last year, per terms of its moving up to the FBS level.
Aguilar scattered his 23 pass completions around to eight different receivers but most prominently to senior wide receiver Kaedin Robinson, who caught eight of ten targets for 108 yards and two TDs. Tight end Eli Wilson (4-53-1) and Christan Horn (2-46-1) also caught scoring aerials as well as stretched the field for key first downs.
Not to take anything away from the performance of Aguilar and his receivers, one of the most impressive things about this win was how deep the running back room proved to be without the services of No. 1 rusher, Nate Noel. Kanye Roberts, Anderson Castle and Maquel Haywood each had rushing TDs to cap off their turns running the football. Roberts was the day’s workhorse, with 14 carries for 108 yards but Watauga native Castle (6 carries, 63 yards) and Haywood, a Wake Forest transfer, both arguably had breakout game performances.
App State now travels to Troy, the West Division champion, to play in the Sun Belt Conference Championship game for the fourth time in the six years the title game has been played.
To understand the magnitude of earning a berth in the Sun Belt Conference title game, look no further than the fact that of the 14 teams competing in the two divisions, 12 are now bowl-eligible. That is a stunning number, reflecting how competitive the conference has become as well as the teams, in aggregate, earning wins over other FBS opponents.
Post-Game Notes from the App State Sports Strategic Communications team:
- App State clinched a berth into the Sun Belt Conference Championship Game as the East Division Champion for the first time since 2021. When they travel to West Champion Troy next Saturday, the Mountaineers will be making their fourth appearance in the six-year history of the championship game (2018 win, 2019 win, 2021 loss), tying Louisiana for the most appearances by a league school.
- At the FBS level, App State has now closed the regular season with a winning streak of at least five games on three occasions: 2023 (3-4 to 8-4), 2021 (4-2 to 10-2) and 2014 (1-5 to 7-5).
- Attendance at Kidd Brewer Stadium was 31,248, a record for a post-Thanksgiving home game. For the third straight year, App State has broken the all-time Sun Belt and school attendance record with an average crowd of 34,734 at The Rock. The previous records were set in 2021 (30,441) and 2022 (33,566).
- The Mountaineers were +3 in the turnover battle with four takeaways and one turnover committed. Under head coach Shawn Clark, the Mountaineers are now 18-1 when winning the turnover battle, 6-11 when losing, and 10-4 when they have the same number of turnovers as the opponent.
- App State won on Senior Day at Kidd Brewer Stadium for the 25th time in the last 26 years.
- App State improved its record in the Georgia Southern series to 22-16-1 overall and 6-4 at the FBS level. In Boone, the Mountaineers improved to 15-5-1 overall against the Eagles and 4-1 as FBS foes.
- In the series, App State has won six of the last nine games, nine of the last 13 and 13 of the last 19.
- Since the rivals began playing annually in 1993, the 28-point win was App State’s second-largest margin of victory over Georgia Southern, topped only by a 52-16 win in 2009. Overall, it’s the third-largest margin of victory for App State in the series, as the Mountaineers won 59-0 in 1939.
- The 55 points were the Mountaineers’ second-most in a game against the Eagles behind that 1939 total.
- App State improved to 53-10 in home games since the 2014 FBS transition.
- App State improved to 65-18 in games against Sun Belt foes since the 2014 FBS transition.
- App State’s 87 wins since 2015 are sixth-most in the FBS behind Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, Ohio State and Oklahoma.
- The Mountaineers’ 55 points were their most this season and their sixth time scoring 40+. The 532 total yards marked their fourth time eclipsing 500 total yards this year.
- With four passing touchdowns on the day, Joey Aguilar ran his season total up to 33, eclipsing Taylor Lamb’s previous school record of 31 in 2015. Aguilar’s total also ranks him second in a season in Sun Belt history (behind Justice Hansen’s 37 for Arkansas State in 2017) and among the top five touchdown passers in the FBS this year.
- Aguilar completed passes to eight different receivers en route to a 23-for-36 day for 296 yards with four touchdowns and one interception. It’s the 11th time in 12 games that he’s passed for multiple touchdowns, and the third time this season with four scoring passes.
- Aguilar became the fifth quarterback in school history with a 3,000-yard passing season. His 3,271 yards so far are fourth-most in the school records behind Chase Brice in 2021 (3,337), Armanti Edwards in 2009 (3,291) and Jamal Londry-Jackson in 2012 (3,278).
- Kaedin Robinson led the receiving corps with eight catches for 108 yards and touchdown catches of 27 yards and 10 yards. His 10 receiving TDs are the most in a season since Corey Sutton’s 10 in 2018 and tied for fifth-most in a season in school history.
- On the day that Armanti Edwards’ No. 14 was permanently retired, the current No. 14 Kanye Roberts rushed for 109 yards and a touchdown on 14 attempts, his third 100-yard game of the year (all three exactly 109 yards). He is tied for the team lead with five rushing scores this season.
- Other touchdowns included catches by wide receiver Christan Horn (sixth of the season) and tight end Eli Wilson (fifth of the season) and rushing touchdowns by Anderson Castle (second of the season) and Maquel Haywood (second of the season).
- This was the third game of the year and the second straight week the Mountaineers’ defense held their opponent under 100 rushing yards.
- Tyrek Funderburk had two interceptions and Jordan Favors added another in a game that the defense accounted for three of the four takeaways. Funderburk and Favors are tied for the team lead with four picks apiece this season.
- Michael Fletcher had a solo sack, and Montez Kelley and Nate Johnson teamed up for another. Johnson entered the weekend as the nation’s leader among FBS freshmen with 7.0 sacks.
- Michael Hughes went 2-for-2 on field goals of 24 and 28 yards. For the season, he’s made 16 of 19 attempts, including both tries from beyond 50 yards. He’s also connected on 51-of-51 PATs.
- Andre Hamilton, with some help from fellow special teamer Ahmani Marshall, forced a fumble on a Georgia Southern kick return that was recovered by Trevor Moffitt at the GS 13-yard line and turned into an App State touchdown on the ensuing play.