LAS CRUCES, N.M. – Appalachian State found out moments before kickoff a Sun Belt title was on the line and wasted little time seizing their first FBS conference championship. The Mountaineers raced to a 17-0 lead in the opening quarter and were never threatened in a 37-7 win at New Mexico State on Saturday afternoon.
The win, coupled with a loss by Arkansas State earlier in the afternoon, guarantees the Apps a share of the Sun Belt title. Ark. State and Troy are both 6-1 in conference play and play next weekend, while App State (9-3, 7-1) has completed their regular season.
App clinches a Sun Belt title in only their second bowl eligible FBS season. The Mountaineers will wait until Dec. 4 to find out their bowl destination and matchup.
App rolled up 604 yards of total offense and led 17-0 less than 10 minutes into the game to quickly gain control. Running back Marcus Cox had his 28th career 100-yard rushing game, notching 140 yards on 16 carries and Jalin Moore added 111 yards on 17 attempts.
The defense held New Mexico State without a first down until the middle of the second quarter and held the Aggies to 240 yards of total offense. Interceptions by Josh Thomas and Mondo Williams pushed App’s season total to 20, which enters the evening as the most in the country.
App’s offense wasted no time getting started. Moore broke loose for 63 yards in the Mountaineers’ second snap to set up a chip-shot field goal from Michael Rubino for a 3-0 lead. Rubino was 3-for-4 on the day, only missing from 47 yards.
The Apps quickly pushed the lead to 10-0 as Cox found space over the left side for 47 yards, setting the table for a 1-yard Moore plunge, his 10th rushing TD of the season.
The Mountaineers struck again after a short punt by New Mexico State. Quarterback Taylor Lamb connected with Shaedon Meadors for a 42-yard on the first play of the drive as App took a 17-0 lead less than 10 minutes into the game.
The defense kept giving Lamb and the App offense a chance to put the game out of reach. Linebacker Eric Boggs had a tipped pass, intercepted by Thomas, and fellow backer John Law had an early sack to end two early Aggie drives. App had six tackles for loss in the game and harassed both NMSU quarterbacks throughout.
The Mountaineers held NMSU to 2-of-12 on third down conversions and 0-of-2 on fourth downs.
App pieced together a pair of 10-play drives to close the first half and open the second to extend the lead to 23-7 as Rubino connected from 27 and 31 yards.
Lamb’s balance helped App put the game away. The junior finished 20-of-28 for 220 yards and a touchdown, but did the Apps’ late damage with his legs. His 4-yard touchdown run with 16 seconds to play put the game out of reach. He showed an impressive burst of speed to win a footrace up the left sideline on a 48-yard TD run to caps the scoring in the game.
Punter Bentlee Critcher punted only once for 53 yards, but downed the ball inside the NMSU 3-yard line, but his best highlight came on a 28-yard run on a fake punt to open the third quarter. Critcher raced up the middle to pick up the first down and extend the drive.
Wide outs Jaquil Capel and Ike Lewis each had five catches in the win. Meadors had four receptions for a game high 72 yards.
Lamb finished with 72 yards rushing and Darrynton Evans added 34 yards on two carries.