Appalachian State has made its reputation as a giant-killer in college football, including what’s been called the greatest upset in history – its 2007 34-32 victory over Michigan when the Mountaineers were still an FCS program.
These days, App State is among the giants. It is No. 20 in the College Football Playoff ranking, is a two-time champion of the Sun Belt Conference and is the defending champion of the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl.
“It’s almost like it’s flipped for us if you look at them being a top-25 team and what they’ve done, beating South Carolina, North Carolina and winning their division and conference again,” Blazers coach Bill Clark said, calling the first meeting between UAB and App State a preview of next season for his two-time Conference USA West Division champions.
“I was sitting there yesterday and asked the seniors to raise their hands, and it’s a small number of guys,” Clark said. “We want to see what our group does next year. Obviously, we’ll get a few guys back that have been injured.
“We’re really excited about our recruits,” he continued. “I think this has kind of been a preview of next year’s team, with us going up against a top-25 team. It’s a huge deal for us. What a great job done in that program through the years.”
The Blazers are 9-4, coming off a 49-6 loss to Florida Atlantic in the Dec. 7 Conference USA championship. Clark and his players say they are eager to make it clear that loss doesn’t represent who they really are.
“It didn’t go like we wanted it to, but it’s also good for us that we have an extra game to redeem ourselves and show the world that wasn’t us that game,” junior linebacker Kris Moll said. “This is a good team, so we have a great chance to show a lot of people otherwise.”
Appalachian State is 12-1 this season, with its lone loss a 24-21 defeat at the hands of conference foe Georgia Southern. Coach Shawn Clark said it all goes back to tradition, what App State was built on and what coach Jerry Moore built there. Moore stepped down after the 2012 season.
And as App State welcomed word of its bowl location, it said goodbye to the man who had been its head coach. Eliah Drinkwitz took over a year ago and guided the Mountaineers to the Sun Belt championship before becoming the head coach at the University of Missouri.
“We take a lot of pride in what we do, and we expect to win every football game,” Clark said. “I don’t care who we’re playing. If we were playing the Dallas Cowboys, we expect to win. We don’t go anywhere to be second fiddle, so that’s what makes us special.”
UAB’s ninth-ranked defense will be tested by Appalachian State’s offense that ranks ninth nationally in scoring, at 39.4 points per game, and averages 435.5 yards per contest. Darrynton Evans is the Sun Belt’s second-leading rusher, with 1,323 yards and 17 touchdowns, while quarterback and Hewitt-Trussville product Zac Thomas has thrown for 2,576 yards and 26 touchdowns.
UAB wide receiver Austin Watkins Jr. is just 67 yards away from joining Roddy White and Derrick Ingram as the only players in Blazer football history to amass 1,000 receiving yards in a season. Watkins enters the bowl game with 47 catches for 933 yards and five touchdowns.
(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)