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App State defense plays strong as the Mountaineers jog memories

App State defense plays strong as the Mountaineers jog memories

Arkansas State Appalachian State football

Appalachian State's Trey Cobb (from left), Kaiden Smith and D'Marco Jackson celebrate Jackson's interception in the second half.

BOONE — A bigger goal revealed itself after Appalachian State’s football win Thursday night.

At a base level, the Mountaineers used it to shake off sluggishness that could've come with nearly a month between games. But the 45-17 defeat of Arkansas State did something even more important for the team, according to senior defensive end Demetrius Taylor.

It jogged some memories.

"We just felt like we needed to show that we're still the running champs,” Taylor said. "Everybody's not talking about App State. They're talking about Coastal (Carolina), Lafayette, everybody else. But you know, they still got to come through Boone."

The game was the Sun Belt Conference opener for the Mountaineers (3-1 overall).

The defense for the back-to-back league champions developed that tone throughout the game. The unit had six sacks and two interceptions, held Arkansas State to a 4-of-16 clip on third downs and even fought a first-and-goal at the Mountaineers 1 on a drive that ended in a 24-yard missed field-goal attempt.

“That’s a high-powered offense we faced tonight,” Coach Shawn Clark said. “Our guys did a great job of keeping things in front. I'm not sure how many quarterback knockdowns we had, but it was quite a few.”

The tone was clear early, when Caleb Spurlin barreled into the Red Wolves’ backfield to sack Logan Bonner. From there, cracks emerged and stayed present throughout the game as App State created havoc while sending fewer pass rushers.

At the end of the first quarter, a pair of plays highlighted again the problem Arkansas State faced. First, George Blackstock charged toward Bonner, who just got the pass off. Then inside linebacker Trey Cobb crashed in for a sack.

D’Marco Jackson, who starts alongside Cobb inside and grabbed both of the Mountaineers’ interceptions (both in the end zone), said some defensive players got together during the week for film sessions around 8 or 9 o'clock.

The focus, the junior said, was to keep Arkansas State’s two-quarterback system, featuring Bonner and Layne Hatcher, off balance.

“A big shoutout to the D-line,” Jackson said, “for just, I mean, three-man pressures and getting back there and putting pressure on the quarterbacks for them picks and that.”

App State couldn’t convert on Jackson’s first pick, which he grabbed in the second quarter. But he got his second in the fourth, sprinting 44 yards toward midfield. It led to a touchdown pass from Zac Thomas to Christian Wells.

Taylor, who led the team with two sacks, just hopes it reminded enough people of what App State can do when the team is healthy and clicking.

“Tonight just showed how much we’ve been working on pass rush and stuff like that,” Taylor said. “We were just having fun out there really.”

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@EthanJoyceWSJ

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