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Trojans triumph in 49-23 win over App State

By David Rogers. TROY, Ala. — There was no hidden army in a Trojan horse. Everything was out in the open at Veterans Memorial Stadium.

What could have been a Cinderella story came to a disappointing end on Dec. 2. Turnovers and quarterback sacks are offensive drive killers in football and Appalachian State suffered too many of both in the Sun Belt Conference Championship Game won by host Troy, 49-23.

The Troy fans had plenty to smile about on Dec. 2 in the Trojans’ win over App State. Photographic image by David Rogers

It could well be argued that two late Trojan touchdowns when the game was already all but decided made the score more lopsided than the game really was but, truth be told, Troy lived up to its billing of having a sack-happy, stingy  defense and a dynamic running back in junior Kimani Vidal.

In Troy’s NCAA Division I history, there have been only two seasons when two players have had nine or more sacks, 2010 and 2023. Going into the  SBC championship, Troy junior defensive end Javon Solomon was tied with University of Texas-San Antonio’s Trey Moore for second in the FBS nation but not any more. The quick, 6-2, 249 lb. Solomon from Tallahassee, Fla. sacked App State QB Joey Aguilar twice on the night, bringing his total to 16 on the season and arguably elevating him to the nation’s leader. Teammate Richard Jibunor is tied for No. 19, with nine on the year.

Mountaineer sacks like this one by Santana Hopper were rare in the SBC Championship Game on Dec. 2. Photographic image by David Rogers

Troy’s defense also kept the Mountaineers’ rushing attack in check, partially because of the costly sacks and turnovers denying opportunities. The three primary running backs employed by Appalachian were somewhat contained, limited to just 147 yards combined and two TDs. Although redshirt freshman Kanye Roberts was the starter and carried the ball 13 times for 53 yards, accounting for both rushing TDs, senior Nate Noel (14 carries, 47 yards) and junior Anderson Castle (8 carries, 47 yards) both provided a spark in relief, particularly in the second half.

Meanwhile, Troy’s Kimani staked a legitimate claim to being the Sun Belt’s leading rusher, carrying the ball 26 times for 233 yards and five touchdowns. The shifty junior RB from Marietta, Ga. seemed at times impossible to bring down, gaining large chunks of yardage after initial contact.

App State QB Joey Aguilar (4) became the all-time season yardage leader for the Mountaineers during the Sun Belt Championship Game. Photographic image by David Rogers

Troy senior Gunnar Watson completed an efficient 15 of 24 passes for 192 yards and one TD to complement Vidal’s attack on the ground, although App State QB Joey Aguilar had even better numbers, completing 28 of 39 passes for 275 yards. The only deficiencies? No touchdowns and being sacked five times.

As theY have had a habit of doing at times in 2023, the Mountaineers fell behind after a scoreless first quarter, giving up two Vidal touchdowns. Arguably, they “won” the middle eight minutes in countering with a Kanye Roberts TD with just 39 seconds left in the first half, then again with Roberts punching the ball across with 10:11 left in the third quarter to tie the game at 14-14.

But when Troy came right back with a 51-yard scoring pass from Watson to sophomore wide receiver Chris Lewis and the Mountaineers had to settle for field goal, the margin widened as Troy found ways to find the end zone.

After the game, Mountaineer head coach Shawn Clark congratulated Troy and Trojan head coach Jon Sumrall on their win and second consecutive Sun Belt championship. He reiterated how proud he is of the App State program and team for starting the season 3-4 and digging out a five win streak to claim the title of East Division representative with James Madison being ineligible. He went on to say that the team’s sights are now set on a bowl game championship, the location of which should be determined in the next few days.

Scoring Summary

Team Qtr Clock Score Type Play Drive Score


2 05:33 TD RUSH K.Vidal 7 yd rush (PAT KICK by S.Renfroe GOOD) 8/61/3:45 7-0


2 03:15 TD RUSH K.Vidal 36 yd rush (PAT KICK by S.Renfroe GOOD) 4/55/1:28 14-0


2 00:39 TD RUSH K.Roberts 1 yd rush (PAT KICK by M.Hughes GOOD) 9/75/2:36 14-7


3 10:11 TD RUSH K.Roberts 6 yd rush (PAT KICK by M.Hughes GOOD) 11/82/4:49 14-14


3 08:31 TD PASS C.Lewis 51 yd reception thrown by G.Watson (PAT KICK by S.Renfroe GOOD) 4/75/1:40 21-14


3 03:50 FG M.Hughes 41 yd Field Goal 7/0/2:56 21-17


4 10:57 TD RUSH K.Vidal 2 yd rush (PAT KICK by S.Renfroe GOOD) 10/81/3:57 28-17


4 10:51 TD FUMB D.Callis 10 yd fumble return (PAT KICK by S.Renfroe GOOD) 35-17


4 05:34 TD RUSH J.Aguilar 6 yd rush (PAT RUSH by J.Aguilar FAILED) 10/75/5:17 35-23


4 04:30 TD RUSH K.Vidal 6 yd rush (PAT KICK by S.Renfroe GOOD) 4/38/1:02 42-23


4 02:42 TD RUSH K.Vidal 49 yd rush (PAT KICK by S.Renfroe GOOD) 2/49/0:56 49-23
    • Playing in its league-best fourth Sun Belt championship game in the six-year history of the event, App State lost the title game for the second time. The Mountaineers won both games they hosted – in 2018 and 2019 against Louisiana – and lost at Louisiana in 2021.
    • The home team has won every Sun Belt championship game that’s been played.
    • With eight wins, App State is bowl eligible and will find out its destination and opponent on Sunday.
    • This was App State’s first loss of the season that wasn’t decided by one possession and in the final seconds of the game.
    • The loss snapped the Mountaineers’ five-game win streak that closed the regular season, as well as a five-game win streak over the Trojans dating back to 2018. App State’s lead in the all-time series against Troy is now 8-4.
    • After trailing 14-0, App State scored a touchdown with 0:39 left in the second quarter and then again on the opening drive of the third quarter to knot the score at 14-14. It remained a one-possession game until Troy went ahead 28-17 with 10:57 left in the fourth quarter.
    • The Mountaineers were -1 in the turnover battle with one takeaway and two turnovers committed. Under head coach Shawn Clark, the Mountaineers are now 18-1 when winning the turnover battle, 6-12 when losing, and 10-4 when they have the same number of turnovers as the opponent.


    • Joey Aguilar passed for 275 yards on 28-of-39 attempts and broke the single-season school record for passing yards. Through 13 games, he stands at 3,546 yards, surpassing Chase Brice’s 2021 total of 3,337. Aguilar already owns the school record for passing touchdowns in a season with 33.
    • Aguilar spread the ball to 11 different receivers, the eighth time this year that nine or more different receivers have caught a pass.
    • This was only the second game of the season (Wyoming) that Aguilar did not throw multiple touchdown passes.
    • Kanye Roberts started at running back and rushed for a team-high 53 yards on 13 carries with two red-zone touchdowns. It’s his first career two-score performance.
    • Tight end Eli Wilson scored the Mountaineers’ other touchdown with a fumble recovery in the end zone.


    • This was the most points allowed in a game this season and most allowed in regulation since last year’s season-opening loss to North Carolina, 63-61.
    • Defensive tackle Santana Hopper recorded the Mountaineers’ only sack of the game, giving him 2.5 for the season. His 6.5 TFLs this season are second-most on the team behind Nate Johnson’s 8.5.
    • Cornerback Ethan Johnson had a career-high 1.5 tackles for loss.


    • Milan Tucker recovered a muffed Troy punt return for a huge turnover of events midway through the third quarter with the Mountaineers trailing 21-14.
    • Michael Hughes connected on a 41-yard field goal on the ensuing drive to cut Troy’s lead to four.
    • Hughes improved his season field goal tally to 17 makes on 20 attempts. His 17 field goals are tied for fourth-most in a season in program history.
    • Mitchell Lake pinned three of his five punts inside the 20 and had a 41.4 average on the day.

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