Dan Ellington

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Appalachian State stays in the Group of 5 race with big win at Georgia State

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No team from the Sun Belt Conference has ever appeared in one of the New Years Six bowl games since the implementation of the BCS, but No. 25 Appalachian State (9-1, 5-1 Sun Belt) will remain in the running to bring that drought to an end this season. The Mountaineers roared back to turn a 21-7 deficit in the first quarter to rout Georgia State (6-4, 3-3 Sun Belt) Saturday night in Atlanta, 56-27. The win moves Appalachian State one big step closer to playing in the second annual Sun Belt Conference championship game at the end of the season.

Appalachian State took over the game in the second quarter with a 21-0 advantage on the scoreboard, turning a 21-14 game in favor of Georgia State into a 35-21 halftime lead. The Mountaineers weren’t up 56-21 before the Panthers managed to score again in the fourth quarter. Appalachian State quarterback Zac Thomas may not have had the best start to the game but ended his night with 256 passing yards and four touchdowns through the air and one more on the ground (along with 52 rushing yards). Both Thomas and Georgia State quarterback Dan Ellington threw interceptions that were returned for touchdowns, but that was the only mistake that hurt Thomas all night. Ellington tossed a second interception in the game as the Panthers could not manage to carry the momentum of their fast start past the first quarter.

App State receiver Corey Xavier-Sutton led all players with eight catches for 173 yards and three of the touchdown passes thrown by Thomas. Appalachian State had 553 yards of offense in the win, with 280 on the ground and 273 in the passing game.

Only conference champions from the Group of Five are eligible for a spot in the New Years Six bowl lineup. If Appalachian State ends the season with the Sun Belt title and just one loss, they would likely be a strong candidate even if they need a little help from the other conferences, namely the American Athletic Conference and the Mountain West Conference. Appalachian State can punch their ticket to the Sun Belt Conference championship game next week at home with a win against Texas State or a Georgia Southern loss. A tie between the two programs would send Georgia Southern to the conference championship game due to a head-to-head tiebreaker. Georgia Southern defeated Appalachian State 24-21 a few weeks ago.

We’ll find out on Tuesday night where Appalachian State ranks in the College Football Playoff selection committee’s rankings compared to other Group of 5 contenders Cincinnati (beat USF with a last-second field goal), Memphis and Boise State. The highest-ranked Group of Five champion will be selected to play in a New Years Six bowl game.

Georgia State will look to rebound next week at home against South Alabama (1-9, 0-6 Sun Belt).

Appalachian State scores 28 straight points to lead Georgia State at halftime

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Looking for a game or two to keep on your Group of 5 radar this evening? No. 25 Appalachian State is leading Georgia State 35-21 in Atlanta as the Mountaineers hope to remain in the running for a spot in the New Years Six bowl lineup at the end of the year.

Georgia State got the scoring started after the defense came up tall with two consecutive three-and-outs. After being forced to punt after a three-and-out, Appalachian State recovered a Georgia State fumble on the punt return by Quavian White. But the Panthers forced a second straight three-and-out to force another punt. Dan Ellington completed a short touchdown pass to Devin Gentry at the end of an 84-yard drive for the 7-0 lead.

Appalachian State answered with Zac Thomas completing a 12-yard touchdown pass to Corey Sutton, but big plays by the Panthers later in the first quarter would see Georgia State build a 21-7 lead. A 67-yard run by Destin Coates gave Georgia State the lead right back, and a Chris Bacon interception return for a touchdown off Thomas had the Panthers up two touchdowns. Thomas shrugged off the mistake and led the Mountaineers on a touchdown drive once they stepped back on the field. Another pass to Sutton was good for a touchdown to cut the deficit to 21-14 before the end of the first quarter.

The Mountaineers came back to tie things up at 21-21 with a Thomas touchdown run midway through the second quarter, and the defense gave the Mountaineers their first lead of the game when Shaun Jolley picked off a pass by Ellington and ran 30 yards the other way for the go-ahead touchdown.

We’ll see if Appalachian State can avoid taking its second loss of the season and remain in the driver’s seat for a spot in the first Sun Belt Conference championship game at the end of the year.

WATCH: Georgia State basketball coach Ron Hunter catches TD in spring game

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The Georgia State Panthers were among the teams holding spring games or scrimmages on Saturday as the spring football season continues this month. As we tend to see from week to week, Georgia State took a chance to have a light-hearted moment during their spring game when they invited men’s basketball head coach Ron Hunter to step on the field and see if he can catch a pass.

During the spring game, Georgia State quarterback Dan Ellington, a JUCO transfer competing for the starting job, completed one of his four touchdown passes to Hunter.

Yesterday also happened to be Hunter’s birthday, so this was a nice present from the football program. Hunter also gets the edge over former South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier, who botched his attempt at a touchdown catch in the spring game for the Gamecocks.

Who will be the next coach to try catching a touchdown in a spring game?

Ellington was 21-for-24 for 249 yards and four touchdowns in the spring game and may have been the leading candidate for the starting job as a result, although head coach Shawn Elliott seemed pleased with the performance of all his available quarterbacks, including Aaron Winchester and Jack Walker (senior Jaquez Parks sat out of the game with an injury).

It takes more than 15 days to let that thing work itself out,” Elliott said. “Certainly leadership dictates a lot of it. We’ll go into fall camp and have 29 practice opportunities before our first game, and we’ll know. The separation will be evident then.”