By David Rogers. September 7, 2019. BOONE, NC — After Appalachian State exploded past Charlotte on the road in 2018, in Jerry Richardson Stadium, most in Saturday’s announced crowd of 29,281 in Kidd-Brewer Stadium anticipated yet another dominating performance by the Mountaineers vs. the 49ers at home, at “The Rock.” They got something else. It was exciting, and a “win,” but…
COVER IMAGE: Charlotte wide receive Victor Tucker hauls in a TD pass from quarterback Chris Reynols. Photographic image by Craig Weston for Blowing Rock News
True to form, App State running back Darrynton Evans electrified AppNation with 298 all-purpose yards (234 rushing on 19 carries and 3 TDs; 2 kick returns for 64 yards and 1 TD).
It was a bookend performance of big plays by the junior from Oak Hill, FL. He opened the game with an 87-yard run up the middle through a big gap opened up by the Mountaineers “hog mollies” in the offensive line, then threaded his way to and up the right sideline, untouched, to the 49ers’ end zone for the game’s first score. Late in the game, Evans finished the day’s scoring excitement by poaching an onside kick attempt by Charlotte after the visitors had pulled to within 49-41 with just over three minutes to play. He leaped through a mass of humanity near midfield, came to Earth with the ball in his possession — and had little but open space ahead of him as he sprinted the remaining 45 yards to paydirt.
In between those big plays, Evans had rushing TDs from 3 yards and 68 yards in the third and fourth quarters, respectively, as well as non-scoring larger gains of 11 yards (Q1), 15 yards (Q3), and 14 yards (Q3).
Evans was not the only big play performer for the Mountaineers. Junior wide receiver Jalen Virgil added two TD pass receptions to his college resume, the first a 10-yarder from QB Zac Thomas with barely a minute left in the half. His second TD catch-and-run was a long-anticipated deep ball from his roommate, Thomas. Virgil angled across and up the middle to receive in stride over his left shoulder a perfectly thrown ball from Thomas. Then, one of the top track and field sprinters in the Sun Belt Conference easily outdistanced all 49er defenders for his second TD of the game, a 73-yarder late in the third quarter to give App State what many mistakenly thought would prove a commanding, 42-20 lead. As the game unfolded, the comfort level grew edgy.
Head coach Eliah Drinkwitz described the decision leading up to the Thomas-to-Virgil connection for reporters after the game, with special props for QB Zach Thomas on the play.
“We have a lot of confidence in Jalen,” Drinkwitz said, “and he just needed his moment and his opportunity. We felt like we had a good matchup for him to the field, and we wanted to be aggressive and take those shots. After that turnover, Zac came over and said ‘coach, we need to throw the nine ball to Jalen.’ I had a run called and they called timeout, so then I just said let’s do it and Zac gave him a nice ball.
“On the 3rd and 12,” the first-year head coach added, “we had seen that same formation earlier in the game and we felt like we could get what we call a post route. We felt like we could attack that corner and run by him as long as we suck down the safety. Credit to Zac because he took a shot on that play and got the ball out. It was a great route, but it was just as much the toughness factor (by Thomas).”
A short while later, in answer to a Blowing Rock News question recalling a similar play where Thomas’ pass was slightly overthrown, Virgil smiled, “When we got back to the house, because Zac and I live together, he was like, ‘Man, I can’t believe that I overthrew you on that post (against ETSU).’ I was like, ‘Man, we are going to end up getting it, eventually.
Early in the game, while Evans was having what turned out to be a minor injury looked at my the athletic trainers, Virgil went back for his first kick return opportunity and returned the ball 45 yards to help give the Mountaineer offense good field position. Near the 7:50 mark of the first quarter, Charlotte completed its first 6-play, 75 yard drive to tighten the score to 7-6. On the ensuing kickoff, Virgil collected the ball at his own 6-yard line, started right, then found a seam in the 49er kick coverage. After meeting would-be tacklers short of midfield, he spun out of a tackle and carried three defenders another several yards before going down at the Charlotte 49-yard line.
As it turned out, starting field position also played a key role in Appalachian’s ability to win this football game. In its 15 offensive possessions, Charlotte averaged starting on its own 23-yard line. In App State’s 15 offensive drives, the Mountaineers averaged starting on their own 40-yard line.
Turnovers are almost always a key factor in the outcome of a football game and that proved the case in this game. With the game still close at 14-13 in favor of the Mountaineers, Virgil’s first TD catch was preceded by a defensive fumble recovery with just 1:19 left in the first half. Disdaining a sack, App State defensive lineman Demetrius Taylor ripped the ball out of the hands of Chris Reynolds, the 49er QB, and the ball went flying toward the far (east) sideline. That’s where linebacker Jordan Fehr was able to wrestle the ball from a Charlotte defender and claim possession for the Mountaineers.
On the first App State offensive play after the fumble recovery on Charlotte’s 11 yard line, the Mountaineers cashed in on the Charlotte turnover. Thomas found a leaping Virgel in the left corner of the end zone and, just like that, the Appalachian’s lead was a more comfortable 21-13 after the Chandler Staton PAT kick sailed threw the uprights.
But with under a minute to play in the half, App State still wasn’t done. One of the only impressive defensive stands of the afternoon was executed by App State, forcing Charlotte to punt with 48 seconds remaining. That’s when the Mountaineer special teams unit got in on the fun when sophomore inside linebacker D’Marco Jackson picked up a blocked punt by defensive back Shaun Jolly and ran the remaining 16 yards into the end zone. The heady special teams play enabled the Mountaineers to go into the locker room for intermission with a 28-13 advantage.
As it turned out, App State needed every bit of that good fortune because Charlotte did not wilt and go quietly into the night.
For the game, Charlotte put together nine “chunk” passing plays of 18-yards or more and an additional six “chunk” plays of 18 or more rushing. Reynolds’ passing plays included three big ones to freshman Micaelous Elder of 34, 26, and 21 yards to set up 49er scores. He also threw 23- and 27-yard TD passes to redshirt sophomore wide receiver Victor Tucker, both in the 4th quarter to bring Charlotte close. Reynolds also found redshirt sophomore Cameron Dollar for a 24-yard TD pass with just three minutes gone in the second half.
On the ground, the 49ers benefited from big yardage plays at the hands and feet of senior running back Benny LeMay of 58 yards for a TD in the second quarter to tighten things at 14-13, as well as a 68-yard rush by redshirt freshman RB Ishod Finger that took the ball to the App State 6-yard line at the 3-minute mark of the third quarter.
LeMay, who is on the 2019 Doak Walker Watch List for the nation’s top running back and a coaches preseason all-Conference-USA selection, finished the game with 14 carries for 118 yards and 2 TDs. He also caught three passes for 34 yards and another TD.
At one point, Reynolds completed 14 straight passes for 218 yards, a span that included three touchdowns and seven 1st downs. Reynolds finished the game completing 20-of-31 passes for 296 yards, with four TDs vs. just one interception for a QB rating of 180.9.
For the victorious Mountaineers, Thomas completed 14-of-20 passes for 182 yards, three TDs and no INTs for a Quarterback Rating of 195.9.
In summarizing the game as he opened the post-game press conference, Drinkwitz noted, “Any win is a good win. I’m really proud of some guys stepping up and making some individual great plays. Darrynton was Superman out there, 234 yards rushing plus a kickoff return for a touchdown. Jalen Virgil had three catches, 86 yards and a touchdown. Zac (Thomas) threw three touchdowns. Those three guys stepped up and made some plays. (Shaun) Jolly with the (punt) block right before the half was a huge momentum swing and then intercepted the ball at the end of the game.
“I’m really proud of some of those guys,” added Drinkwitz. “I’m disappointed in the penalties. Obviously, way too many penalties on our team, both offensive and defensive penalties. They’re undisciplined and that comes back to me, and that’s going to be addressed and fixed. Missed tackling was sloppy and poor. We gave up almost 300 yards passing. That’s not something I expected to happen. We will come back tomorrow and get that corrected and move forward. It’s good to be 2-0.”
App State has next weekend off with a “bye” before traveling to Chapel Hill on September 21st to take on North Carolina (kickoff time TBA). Charlotte hosts UMass next Saturday (6:00 pm kickoff) before facing Clemson on September 21.
SELECTED TEAM STATS
- Total Offense Yards — CLT 526, APP 458
- Pass Yards — CLT 296, APP 182
- Rush Yards — CLT 230, APP 276
- Penalties — CLT 11-80, APP 13-148
- Turnovers– CLT 2, APP 0
- Fumbles (No.-Lost) — CLT 1-1, APP 0-0
- Interceptions — CLT 1, APP 0
- Time of Possession — CLT 33:54, APP 26:06
- QB Sacks by — CLT 3, APP 4
- Tackles for Loss by — CLT 6, APP 10
- 3rd Down Converstions — CLT 4-12, APP 5-13
SELECTED INDIVIDUAL STATS
- APP – Darrynton Evans (19 carries-234 yards-3 TDs)
- CLT – Benny LeMay (14-118-2)
- CLT – Ishod Finger (5-75-0)
- CLT – Chris Reynolds (15-35-0)
- APP – Daetrich Harrington (5-26-0)
- CLT – Chris Reynolds 20-31, 296, 4 TDs, 1 INT
- APP – Zac Thomas 14-20, 182, 3 TDs, 0 INT
- CLT – Micaleous Elder 7-119
- CLT – Victor Tucker 6-90, 2 TDs
- APP – Jalen Virgil 3-86, 2 TDs
- APP – Malik Williams 6-73
- CLT – Cameron Dollar 4-53, 1 TD
- CLT – Benny LeMay 3-34, 1 TD
- APP – Thomas Hennigan 3-17, 1 TD