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App State will play Western Kentucky in the Boca Raton Bowl. Here's the rundown on the Hilltoppers

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Appalachian State’s football team gets to dive into its bowl game in less than two weeks.

App State (10-3) will play Western Kentucky in the Boca Raton Bowl at 11 a.m. Dec. 18.

Here’s a look at the game and the Hilltoppers (8-5).

About the bowl game

This will be the eighth Boca Raton Bowl, which is played at the home venue for Florida Atlantic.

App State will be the first Sun Belt member to play in this bowl. Conference USA has had the most appearances in the Boca Raton Bowl with five. The American Athletic Conference and Mid-American Conference have four appearances apiece.

CUSA has never lost in this bowl.

The Mountaineers’ opponent

Western Kentucky, the Conference USA runner-up, finished 8-5. The Hilltoppers won the East Division, which features former App State non-conference opponents Marshall (2020 and 2021) and Charlotte (2018, 2019 and 2020).

The Hilltoppers are led by third-year coach Tyson Helton. Western Kentucky went 9-4 in his first season in 2019, followed by a 5-7 mark during the 2020 season.

The Hilltoppers’ season

Western Kentucky was 1-4 early, the last loss coming at the hands of eventual CUSA champion Texas-San Antonio. Once in the thick of conference play, though, the Hilltoppers couldn’t be stopped.

They won seven straight games en route to the tile game rematch with the Roadrunners.

App State and Western Kentucky have one common opponent this season, Marshall. The Mountaineers beat the Thundering Herd, 31-30, on Sept. 23. The Hilltoppers beat them in the regular season finale, 53-21.

Key players

Western Kentucky quarterback Bailey Zappe is the motor of the Hilltoppers’ offense. He’s thrown for 5,545 yards and 56 touchdowns while completing 69% of his passes.

He throws to a pair of 1,000-yard receivers, Jerreth Sterns and Mitchell Tinsley. Sterns has 1,718 yards and 14 touchdowns, while Tinsley accounts for 1,299 and 12. Four other Hilltoppers have registered five or more receiving touchdowns.

DeAngelo Malone, a senior defensive end, has eight sacks and 16.5 tackles for loss to go along with 88 touchdowns. Four Hilltoppers have at least two interceptions.

Latest result

Western Kentucky lost to Texas-San Antonio, 49-41, in the CUSA title game. Zappe threw for 577 yards and four touchdowns with two interceptions. Sterns and Tinsley combined for a balanced 352 yards receiving.

Before its final drive failed in an attempt to tie the game, the Hilltoppers scored on four-straight series to get back within striking distance.

Notable

Six of the Hilltoppers last seven wins featured margins of 20 points or more.

This season featured the program’s first division championship since 2016.

Former Power Five coaches Willie Taggart (Oregon and Florida State, currently Florida Atlantic), Bobby Petrino (Arkansas and Louisville) and Jeff Brohm (Purdue) coached there. The program was also once led by Jack Harbaugh, the father of coaches Jim (Michigan, former of the San Francisco 49ers and Stanford) and John Harbaugh (the Baltimore Ravens). Harbaugh won an FCS championship with the Hilltoppers in 2002.

Western Kentucky’s two most recent losses in bowl games have come from a Sun Belt member: Georgia State beat them in 2017 and 2019.

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@ByEthanJoyce

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