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Louisiana beats Appalachian State in Sun Belt Conference football championship game

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LAFAYETTE, La. — Louisiana’s defense has proven as difficult for the Appalachian State football team to move as the mountains that are home to the Mountaineers.

The Ragin’ Cajuns shackled the App State offense for a third time within 366 days, scoring a 24-16 victory in the Sun Belt Conference championship game.

The Mountaineers (10-3), who won the Sun Belt’s East Division, will learn their bowl destination Sunday. App State has played in and won bowl games in all six of its seasons since moving to the Football Bowl Subdivision.

The Ragin’ Cajuns and Mountaineers met for the third time in four seasons in the league championship game and the seventh time in four seasons overall. Appalachian State won the title-game matchups in 2018 and 2019 in Boone. The Mountaineers won the first eight games of the series, dating to 2014, but the Ragin’ Cajuns now carry a three-game winning streak.

They’re two of the top programs, along with Coastal Carolina, in a Sun Belt that is expanding to include Marshall, Southern Mississippi, Old Dominion and likely James Madison.

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“Our commissioners and athletics directors have set ourselves up to be the premier group of college football’s Group of Five,” Appalachian State head coach Shawn Clark said. “I’ll put our conference toe-to-toe with anyone else in the Group of Five. This conference, from top to bottom, it’s the best it’s ever been.”

App State quarterback Chase Brice connected with Thomas Hennigan, a super senior from Greensboro and Northwest Guilford, on a fourth-and-10 play that drew the Mountaineers with 24-16 with 5:06 remaining in the game. Hennigan made a leaping catch and broke free of four defenders to get into the end zone.

The touchdown, which was followed by a failed two-point conversion attempt, capped an 83-yard drive that stood as App State’s most successful in the second half.

But the Louisiana offense held onto the ball after the kickoff, forced Appalachian State to use all of its timeouts by the 2:04 mark and drained the clock into the final half-minute before being stopped on fourth down at the App State 35. After an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty put the Mountaineers at midfleld, a Ragin’ Cajuns hit caused a fumble by Brice and Louisiana recovered.

The Mountaineers accumulated 296 yards of total offense. App State could manage just 216 yards in a 41-13 loss to at Louisiana on Oct. 12, and the Ragin’ Cajuns held App State to 290 yards in a 24-21 win in Boone on Dec. 4, 2020.

Louisiana’s defense ranks 32nd in FBS with 342.3 yards allowed per game, and the Ragin’ Cajuns are No. 13 in scoring defense in yielding 18.5 points per game.

Chandler Staton’s 36-yard field goal with 6:54 to play in the third quarter pulled App State within 17-10. But the Ragin’ Cajuns expanded the lead on Emani Bailey’s 35-yard run with 12:14 to go in the game.

App State lost receiver Corey Sutton to an injury during the second half. He returned to the sidelines, out of his uniform, with his right arm in a sling.

The game was the last for Louisiana coach Billy Napier, who has agreed to become Florida’s coach. Napier, the Sun Belt Conference coach of the year, is expected to be introduced Sunday.

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