JONESBORO — Appalachian State’s bid for a fifth consecutive Sun Belt Conference football championship has been on hold.
The Mountaineers postponed an Oct. 7 game against Louisiana-Lafayette and an Oct. 14 game against Georgia Southern until December because of COVID-19 positive tests and contact tracing. Barring late complications, they will finally play a Sun Belt game tonight as Arkansas State visits Boone, N.C.
App State (2-1) hasn’t played since beating Campbell 52-21 on Sept. 26. Arkansas State (3-2), which had two postponements in September, has played three games since the Mountaineers last took the field.
A-State head coach Blake Anderson has said fatigue impacted his team Oct. 3 in its 52-23 loss at Coastal Carolina, the Red Wolves’ first game after their coronavirus-related pause.
“I don’t know what their situation really is, how many guys they actually had sick and how many of them had symptoms, how many guys were just in close contact and how much have they been able to do,” Anderson said of App State. “I don’t know what we’re going to see. I just have to assume they’ve been through something similar, but also take the approach they’re going to come out in great shape, ready to roll.”
First-year App State head coach Shawn Clark expressed confidence that his team’s break won’t be an issue.
“I think it’s always a concern when you’re off 25 days from your last game and 17 days between practices, but if it was going to happen to a team, I feel confident in our program,” Clark said during Monday’s Sun Belt teleconference. “We’re a senior-heavy team with guys who have played a lot of football around here in Boone.”
Clark, App State’s offensive line coach from 2016-19, welcomed back 12 starters from last year’s team that won 13 games. The Mountaineers opened with a 35-20 victory over Charlotte on Sept. 12 before losing 17-7 at Marshall the following Saturday.
After a victory over Campbell in a game where the Mountaineers were missing three players who had tested positive for COVID-19 and 18 more who were in quarantine, according to the school, App State did not practice as a team again until Oct. 14. Clark said his team’s Oct. 14-15 practices were like a mini-camp before the Mountaineers moved into game preparations.
“I’ve been very impressed with our guys, how they handled themselves. They handled themselves like pros,” Clark said. “You look at the Tennessee Titans when they had their brief pause, and they had two walkthroughs and one practice and they were able to come out and be successful against the (Buffalo) Bills. We used that as a platform for where we want to be. We’ve had some very spirited practices. We really haven’t skipped a beat as far as what we do offensively, defensively or on special teams.”
Tonight’s game kicks off at 6:30 p.m. It will be televised on ESPN.