CONWAY, S.C. — Coastal Carolina has come a long way in a short amount of time.

After being picked to finish last in the Sun Belt Conference’s East Division in the preseason coaches poll, the Chanticleers grabbed control of the division with a 34-23 win over Appalachian State on Saturday.

“For us to be 8-0 and one step closer to clinching the eastern division, if you had told us that at the beginning of the season, nobody would have believed that,” coach Jamey Chadwell said. “Hopefully, this is not the top moment of the year. Hopefully, we’ve got more.”

Coastal’s victory wasn’t secure until Reese White’s 3-yard touchdown run with 2:24 to go gave the Chants their third and final lead of the game. D’Jordan Strong picked off a pass on the ensuing possession and returned it for a touchdown to clinch it.

The Chants (6-0 Sun Belt Conference) had lost all six previous games to the four-time defending Sun Belt champion Mountaineers (6-2, 4-1). But they held Appalachian State to just two field goals in the second half after falling behind 17-9 at halftime.

The Mountaineers tried to rally after White’s score. But D’Jordan Strong intercepted Zac Thomas’ pass on fourth-and-22 and returned it 38 yards for a touchdown to clinch it.

Coastal Carolina is now a victory away from winning the league’s East Division and playing West winners Louisiana-Lafayette for the conference title next month.

The Chants play at Texas State on Saturday and a make-up of a COVID-19-postponed game at Troy on Dec. 12. In between is a potential undefeated showdown against No. 22 LIberty on Dec. 5.

Coastal Carolina freshman quarterback Grayson McCall threw for 200 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for another 69 yards and a score. Wide receiver Isaiah Likely had 118 yards receiving and a score, and the Chants’ defense forced three turnovers, all interceptions, off the usually steady Thomas.

Likely caught a 75-yard TD pass from McCall on Coastal’s first possession. “I looked at the defense and told them ‘I got y’all. Be ready. I’m going to score,’ ” he said.

Peoples continued to do his thing throughout most of the first half. Prior to the break, he rushed for 171 yards. It was the first time all season Coastal Carolina had allowed anybody to eclipse the 100-yard plateau.

Peoples couldn’t keep it up in the second half. He added just seven more yards on his final seven carries.

It was mistakes and missed assignments that cost the Mountaineers, coach Shawn Clark said. “I thought all three phases made mistakes today,” he said.

If Coastal wins its final three regular-season games, it could lead to a New Year’s Six bowl appearance. More immediately, though, the Chants know that they need to win only one of their two final conference games to lock up a berth in the Sun Belt championship game.

The Mountaineers almost assuredly lost out on a chance to play in the Sun Belt title game. The Chants would need to lose both of their final two conference games to open that door. However, they remain on solid footing for a bowl berth.

Appalachian State plays Troy at home on Saturday night.

Coastal Carolina looks to clinch the Sun Belt East Division at Texas State on Saturday.

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