BOONE, NC — A tumble with record-breaking viewership, College GameDay attendance and Hail Mary finishes includes another chance to watch App State Football at The Rock.
Saturday’s home final, where the Mountaineers (5-5, 2-4) take on Old Dominion (3-7, 2-4) at Kidd Brewer Stadium, is both Senior Day and Heroes Day.
Before kick-off at 2:30 p.m., with temperatures hovering around 30 degrees, 28 student-athletes will be honored during the Seniors’ Day celebrations. Then it’s down to business as App State resumes its quest for a strong end to the season and tries to get one step closer to qualifying for the postseason.
“Our children have worked very hard and are happy to be here, which is nice to see,” said the head coach Shawn Clark said. “Our kids are still fighting and we have a great opportunity to honor these guys here on Saturday in front of a packed stadium.”
The combination of redshirt usage, transfer arrivals, and the extra year of eligibility allowed under COVID protocols beginning in 2020 means Seniors’ Day will have an interesting mix of attendees, with senior years spanning from 2017 through the winter of 2019. The group’s recognition includes five players who are sixth-season sophomores, 15 players who are fifth-season sophomores, and eight players who are fourth-year sophomores.
Since the start of the 2018 season, the Mountaineers have amassed a 48-15 record, good for the eighth most wins in the country. There are three players who enlisted at App State in 2017 and have played six of the Mountaineers’ nine FBS seasons in Boone: RB Daetrich HarringtonP Clayton Howell and CB Steven Jones Jr.
All three made big contributions at Marshall last weekend when Harrington hit a fourth-down TD after gaining 26 yards on a third-and-goal screen pass, Howell placed two punts inside the 5 and Jones his first career sack had in his career. High nine tackles.
Nonetheless, App State lost a Sun Belt game on the road by seven points for the second straight week. Of App State’s five losses, four were decided by seven points or fewer.
“We’ve come up a little short at the moment, but that has nothing to do with the effort they put on the football field,” Clark said. “Our kids look forward to playing every week. Sometimes you just have to play and we need to train better.”
Led by Ricky Rahne, who was Penn State’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach when the Nittany Lions beat App State in an overtime thriller in 2018, ODU has had its ups and downs this season as well.
The Monarchs achieved a 20-17 home win over Virginia Tech and suffered a 16-14 loss in Virginia in the first three weeks. They started 2-0 in Sun Belt thanks to home wins over Arkansas State and Coastal Carolina, but have lost four straight games since winning away at Coastal when Blake Watson threw for 259 of his team’s 323 rushing yards.
ODU quarterback Hayden Wolff (6-foot-5, 235 pounds) has thrown for more than 230 yards in six games this year, but the offense has been without 6-8 tight end Zack Kuntz (a Penn State transfer who suffered a season) end of injury Oct. 1) and 6-2 receiver Ali Jennings III (who picked up a season-ending injury after catching 54 for 959 yards and nine touchdowns in nine games).
“Your quarterback, he can really throw the football, and he can run to get a shot if he has to,” Clark said. “He really spreads the ball. But if you prepare for just one thing, they can beat you in the Run game. They’re going back to the Coastal game, they’re running the meter and playing a million different ways to succeed and keep Coastal’s offense off the field.”
Third-down stops continued to be a challenge for App State’s defense in Marshall, where the Mountaineers limited the Thundering Herd to 3.3 yards per carry on 37 attempts.
Old Dominion’s defense is led by linebacker Jason Henderson, whose 166 tackles are 39 more than the total for the nation’s second-leading tackler and 97 more than the second-leading tackler on the ODU team.
For comparison, the Monarchs have been credited with 889 stops (solo tackles and assists) this season, with 785 offensive games executed by their opponents. App State has defended 641 offensive plays and defended a total of 648 tackles, including a team-high 58 Logan Doublin.
ODU is ranked 130th among 131 teams in ball possession nationally, so App State will work to stay ahead of the chains, create more manageable third-down situations, and rely on its balanced offense to score at an efficient rate.
Despite allowing 196.5 rushing yards per game and 245.0 passing yards per game for a total of 441.5, which ranks 13th in the Sun Belt, the Monarchs allow 26.5 points per contest, in part because they are 18th Forced turnover (with 11 interceptions).
“They’re not a 3-7 football team,” Clark said. “They have a lot of good players and a lot of struggle in this team.”