No. 21 Ragin' Cajuns at Appalachian State: 'In your heart, it’s a big one'

Tim Buckley
Lafayette Daily Advertiser

It’s not a repeat of the last two Sun Belt Conference championship games. But make no mistake: When No. 21 UL visits Appalachian State on Friday night in Boone, North Carolina, it will be a huge deal.

For both sides.

“Big challenge,” Ragin’ Cajuns coach Billy Napier said of facing the Mountaineers for the fifth time in three seasons, “and one of the best teams we’ve played in a long time – much like they’ve always been in the past.”

Appalachian State coach Shawn Clark called UL “a program I’ve got a lot of respect for.”

“When you watch them on tape,” Clark said Monday, “you see why they’re so good.”

The game is big enough that ESPN has picked it up, elevating it from ESPN2 and changing the start time from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. CT.

Originally scheduled for Oct. 7, the matchup was postponed due to a COVID-19 outbreak in the Mountaineers’ football program.

It’s the now the regular-season finale for UL (8-1, 6-1), which has won five straight after Saturday’s 70-20 victory at UL Monroe. It’s also the Cajuns’ final outing before visiting SBC East Division winner Coastal Carolina (9-0, 7-0) in this year’s Sun Belt title game on Dec. 19 at Conway, South Carolina.

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That in mind, UL players tried hard Monday to not overplay the App State game too much.

“In your heart, it’s a big one,” said defensive lineman Zi’Yon Hill, who had two sacks at ULM. “But, I mean, it’s just … the next game on the schedule, you know? The next game to prove ourselves.”

“Like always, it’s a big game,” added left guard David Hudson, who made his first career start in Monroe. “But … it’s also just another conference game. So, like Zi’Yon said earlier, ‘Just another game.’ That’s how we’re gonna approach it.”

Yet reality suggests it’s much more than most others.

Former UL quarterback Andre Nunez scores in the 2018 Sun Belt Conference championship game in Boone, North Carolina. Appalachian State won 30-19.

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The three-time Sun Belt West Division champion Cajuns are 0-8 all-time against the Mountaineers, including road losses to App State in both the 2018 inaugural SBC championship in game in 2018 and last year’s title game too.

UL’s only loss this season, incidentally, was a 30-27 decision on Oct. 14 against now-No. 14 Coastal Carolina, which beat Appalachian State 34-23 on Nov. 21.

App State (7-2, 5-1) is coming off Saturday’s 47-10 home win over Troy. The Mountaineers also lost at Marshall in September, but they opened with a win at Charlotte of Conference USA.

The Cajuns opened with a win at now-No. 12 Iowa State and also won at UAB of C-USA.

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“We’re still chasing our best football and trying to get hot at the right time,” Napier said. “Certainly the next two opponents, we’ll need to play our best. So, this week will be no different.”

Even he, though, gave a nod to the gravity.

“It’s Louisiana vs. App, you know, and it’s an important game,” Napier said. “Two of the best teams in the entire country.

“So, we’ve got a lot of respect for them, and certainly what we’ve seen on the tape is no different than App State teams in the past. One heckuva football team.”