App State hosts Western Carolina today
by Steve Behr Sports Editor
Appalachian State's 3-8 record may not indicate that the Mountaineers' showdown with rival Western Carolina at 3:30 p.m. today is a big game when it comes to winning a Southern Conference championship or making the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.
Appalachian State (3-8, 3-4 SoCon) has no chance of doing either. The Mountaineers won't win the SoCon title and are ineligible to play in the playoffs because of their move to the Football Bowl Subdivision.
Western Carolina (2-9, 1-6) has no chance of doing either because of its record.
It's a rare time that the two teams play each other with a losing record. The Mountaineers can win two straight games for the first time all season with a victory over the Catamounts, who they hold an overall series advantage of 58-18-1.
Yet, for Appalachian State coach Scott Satterfield, beating Western Carolina is very important. Not only will the Mountaineers keep the Old Mountain Jug in Boone for the 27th time in 29 games, but they will have a chance to win their second straight game and go into the offseason on a positive note.
It's also the Mountaineers' final game as a member of the Southern Conference, where they have played since 1971. The Mountaineers are 204-87-5 overall in Southern Conference play.
"It's the last game for the seniors and for us in the Southern Conference," Satterfield said. "There's a lot riding on this game and the kids will be ready."
Appalachian State has started to build some momentum toward the end of the season. In their last four games, the Mountaineers have gone 2-2 after beating rivals Georgia Southern and Wofford. App State's losses have been to SoCon champion Chattanooga (31-28) and 45-6 to Georgia after trailing by just 14-6 at halftime.
"In the last four weeks, we've play a whole lot better," Satterfield said. "We've figured out who we are on offense and defense and special teams. We're playing for each other."
The Mountaineers face a Western Carolina team that has won just two games, but has been competitive in several of its losses. Satterfield has a lot of respect for Western quarterback Troy Mitchell, who leads the team in passing with 1,589 yards and 12 touchdowns, although he has tossed 10 interceptions.
Mitchell is also second on the team in rushing with 542 yards and two touchdowns on 126 carries.
Darius Ramsey leads the Catamounts in rushing with 558 yards and four touchdowns.
"To me, he's a talented runner," Satterfield said of Mitchell. "He can make a lot of things happen with his legs. One thing he struggles with is consistency, but he made some big throws against Wofford. In the passing game, he's also able to scramble around and extend the play."
Appalachian State's passing game has improved as quarterback Kameron Bryant has gained experience. Bryant has thrown for 2,527 yards and 12 touchdowns with just four interceptions.
Freshman Marcus Cox, who surpassed the 1,000-yard barrier in the Mountaineers' 33-21 victory over Wofford on Nov. 16, was named the Freshman of the Week by the Southern Conference for the fifth time after gaining 119 yards and scored three touchdowns.
"I don't think anybody thought we'd be 2-9 and App would be 3-0," Western Carolina coach Mark Speir, who was an assistant at App State before taking over the Catamounts' program, said. I know that hasn't happened in recent history. They have a new defensive scheme and that is completely new to those players. Offesively, Kam hasn't been a starter and it took him a while to gel with those receivers."
Speir said he felt the Mountaineers have been playing much better football in the past four weeks.
"You watch the Georgia game and it scares you to death the way they moved the ball," Speir said. "I know what they did at Georgia Southern and at Wofford, so the gel process has begun."