The 20th-ranked Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns have already secured a spot in the Sun Belt Conference championship game for the third straight season.
But don’t think for a minute that renders Friday night’s game against bitter rival Appalachian State meaningless.
Not only do the Ragin’ Cajuns (8-1, 6-1 Sun Belt) want to carry momentum from a five-game win streak into the Dec. 19 title game against No. 14 Coastal Carolina, there is also the matter of taking care of some unfinished business. The Cajuns are 0-8 all time against the Mountaineers, including 0-4 in coach Billy Napier’s three seasons at Louisiana-Lafayette.
That includes losses in the last two Sun Belt Conference championship games.
“We’ve got to keep this momentum that we have and certainly we have a big challenge this week going to Boone,” Napier said. “Everybody’s got great respect for their tradition and history that they’ve had. They’ve certainly been the standard in our league for a while now. We’ve certainly played them quite a bit.”
Appalachian State (7-2, 5-1) lost its chance at a Sun Belt three-peat when they lost to Coastal Carolina earlier this year. But Napier said that doesn't make the Mountaineers any less dangerous for this nationally televised prime time game.
“I think we all know what type of team App has,” Napier said. “They’re a couple plays away from being undefeated. They’ve gotten beat by two really, really good football teams in Marshall and Coastal Carolina Regardless of maybe their record, or where they’re at in their division or their national ranking, this is an exceptional team."
Said Appalachian State coach Shawn Clark: “It's going to be a great battle.”
Some other things to look for in Friday night's game:
There is expected to be a wintry mix in the mountains of Boone, North Carolina, which Clark believes will play in Appalachian State's favor. Appalachian State seems to play better as the weather gets worse. The Mountaineers are 19-1 in their last 20 games in November and December.“ Hopefully it rains, sleets and snows, all of the above. That's kind of what we are made for,” Clark said.
The Ragin' Cajuns feature two senior running backs who have combined for more than 6.400 yards rushing in their college careers. Trey Ragas is third all time in school history with 3,431 yards, while Elijah Mitchell has 3,045 yards. They are two of nine running backs in the FBS who have amassed more than 3,000 yards rushing.
“We have to match their numbers and make sure we fit right in the run game,” Clark said.
LEWIS MAKING WAVES
Louisiana-Lafayette quarterback Levi Lewis is one of the most dynamic players in the conference and is coming off a game in which he had five touchdowns against Louisiana-Monroe. Lewis has 51 career touchdowns passing, which is second in school history behind only Jake Delhomme, who went on to lead the Carolina Panthers to the Super Bowl in 2003. Louisiana-Lafayette is 15-1 when Lewis throws two or more touchdowns in a game.
Although the Mountaineers are unranked and won't play in the Sun Belt Conference championship this season, they're still a 3-point favorite to win the game. Appalachian State’s 61-14 record and 81.3 win percentage since the start of 2015 is No. 5 nationally behind just Clemson (77-6, 92.8%), Alabama (74-6, 92.5%), Ohio State (65-7, 90.3%) and Oklahoma (64-12, 84.2%).
THOMAS JUST WINS
Appalachian State quarterback Zac Thomas is 30-5 as a starter, which places him No. 2 among active FBS quarterbacks in wins behind only Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence (32-1). Thomas is tied with D.J. Campbell (30-17) for third all time in career wins by an Appalachian State starting quarterback. Thomas had four TD passes in a 47-10 win against Troy in the Mountaineers last game.
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