By David Rogers. September 8, 2018. CHARLOTTE, NC — Speed kills — and it is a good weapon for winning football games, too. Scoring a third of your points when the opponent’s defense isn’t even on the field is also a gridiron coup.
COVER IMAGE: App State wide receiver Corey Sutton (2) outraces Charlotte defenders to the end zone. All photographic images by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News.
Exactly one week after losing an overtime heartbreaker to 9th-ranked Penn State in State College, PA, Appalachian State’s Mountaineers exacted a measure of revenge against the first of two consecutive Conference USA opponents, Charlotte, on the 49ers’ home turf in Jerry Richardson Stadium. Billed as a natural in-state rivalry, the Mountaineers showed little mercy in running away from Charlotte, 45-9.
Preparation. That is what it is all about.
It was the first-ever meeting between the two schools and the record crowd of 19,151 (standing room only) provided a lot of energy in the picturesque Richardson arena.
If Charlotte had any positive takeaways from the historic meeting, it was that they limited Mountaineer senior running back Jalin Moore to just 38 net yards rushing on 11 carries, and the entire App State rushing offense to only 139 net yards on 35 carries. Another positive: freshman placekicker Jonathan Cruz accounted for all of the 49ers’ points with fields goals of 46-, 48- and 54-yards, all in the second quarter.
But that is pretty much where the 49er positives began and ended in a contest dominated by the Mountaineers, and in all three phases: offense, defense, and special teams.
After the game, Mountaineer head coach Scott Satterfield acknowledged that Charlotte did a good job in throttling down the potent App State ground game, so they turned more to a passing attack, with redshirt sophomore quarterback Zac Thomas at the controls.
Thomas didn’t disappoint, completing a perfect 14-of-14 passes for 295 yards and three touchdowns. Kansas State transfer Corey Sutton, a sophomore wide receiver and Charlotte native, was on the receiving end of three Thomas aerials for 177 yards, including a 90-yard catch-and-carry to open the 4th quarter and expand the Mountaineer lead to 38-9.
Shortly after Sutton’s fourth quarter ramble down the middle of the field to paydirt, a series of miscues and heady plays to take advantage kept fans on both sides at the edge of their seats.
First, just two plays into Charlotte’s subsequent offensive series, Mountaineer defensive back Desmond Franklin leaped in front of a pass thrown by the 49ers’ starting QB, Chris Reynolds at the CLT 47-yard line and returned the INT for what initially appeared to be an App State touchdown. But in leaping toward the goal line, the junior from Inverness, FL lost control of the ball and it went hurtling into the end zone and out the side for a Charlotte touchback.
We have to eliminate giving up TDs when our defense isn’t even on the field.
By this time, Satterfield and his coaching staff had many of his reserves on the field with a handful of starters, but the depth on App State’s young roster was clearly evident when the defensive unit held Charlotte to a three-and-out. Then, in a seven-play drive that featured young backup running backs D’Andre Hicks and Marcus Williams, Jr., the offense moved 65 yards while taking 3:32 off the clock, capped by a 9-yard scrambling QB keeper around the right side. But Thomas lost the football as he was being bumped out of bounds at the one-yard line – and it was recovered by Charlotte free safety Ben DeLuca. Forty-niners’ ball, but in a precarious position.
With the ball snapped from a spot barely outside the 49er end zone, Charlotte could ill afford a mistake. Trying to get a little more breathing room, a simple running play went awry when freshman running back Calvin Camp was unable to complete the exchange with the 49ers’ senior quarterback Hasaan Klugh, two yards deep into the end zone. The ball tumbled to the ground, bounced backward through Camp’s legs, where it was pounced on by the Mountaineers’ senior defensive back Austin Exford for an icing-on-the-cake touchdown.
“We gave them touchdowns when the defense wasn’t even on the field,” observed Charlotte head coach Brad Lambert in his post-game Q&A. “We had the fumbled exchange in the end zone, and then we had the (Thomas Hennigan) punt return when our defense was on the sideline. We have to eliminate those plays.”
At the visiting team’s press conference afterward, Satterfield was quick to acknowledge Charlotte and the atmosphere provided for the game and with special kudos to the large presence of App State fans. But most of his comments focused on his players’ resilience and the special moments for the many players among the Mountaineers who called the Charlotte area home.
Charlotte took away our running game early, so we turned to passing.
“I’m really proud of our guys,” said Satterfield. “They bounced back from an emotional game last week (at Penn State) with the loss at the very end. We had a great week of practice and it showed tonight. Preparation, that is what it is all about.
“They took away our running game early on,” Satterfield conceded, “and we had to turn to our passing game. Thomas was 14-for-14 and our receivers made some outstanding catches. You know, you throw a 10-yard curl route and the receiver takes it 90 yards for the touchdown, that is the type of play that is a credit to our receivers.
“Our defense kept Charlotte out of the end zone,” App State’s sixth year head mentor noted. “That is huge for us. If we hold teams to field goals, then we have a good chance of winning football games.”
Satterfield pointed out that Sutton’s 90-yard TD aerial, the second longest in App State history, means that opposing coaches are going to have to worry a little more about the Charlotte native’s route running, hands and speed.
“But if they focus on Sutton,” smiled Satterfield, “we’ve got some guys on the other side of the field that are pretty darn good, such as Thomas Hennigan who had that long punt return.”
As it turned out, the Mountaineers’ roster depth played an important role in the 90-degree Charlotte heat and high humidity.
“We have five linebackers on the roster,” Satterfield reported, “and by the third series, we were rotating all of them in. Last week at Penn State, Anthony Flory and Jordan Fehr played (every defensive down) and they were gassed by the fourth quarter and overtime. So tonight we wanted to rotate guys in and keep them all fresh. That is going to pay dividends down the road because they will have to play a lot when we get into conference play. So we will stick with this game plan and let these young guys play. They will get better and better as the season progresses. We want to be hitting optimal come midseason. We played a lot of freshmen tonight.”
Our overall team speed is probably the best it has ever been.
App State’s biggest weapon may well be its overall team speed.
“Our team speed is probably the best it has ever been,” Satterfield stated, matter-of-factly. That translates to good special teams play. You hold a block a little bit longer, and that may be all our (return) guys need (to find a hole). Maybe we gain an advantage in that the other teams don’t kick it to our (deeper) return guys.”
Appalachian returns to Kidd-Brewer Stadium next week to take on another Conference USA foe, Southern Mississippi, which fell on Saturday to another emerging Sun Belt Conference rival, Louisiana-Monroe in a nail-biter, 21-20. Kickoff is slated for 3:30 pm.
Charlotte stays home for its C-USA season opener against Old Dominion. ODU started the season with two consecutive losses, being defeated by Liberty 52-10 on September 1st, then by Florida International, 28-20, in the Monarchs’ C-USA opener.
Saturday was a good day for the Sun Belt Conference, with six wins among the nine games played. While Arkansas State lost to Alabama, 57-7, Georgia State fell to North Carolina State, 41-7 and South Alabama was dropped by Oklahoma State, 55-13, the others were winners. Troy beat Florida A&M 59-7, Texas State thumped Texas Southern 36-20, Coastal Carolina was impressive in a 47-24 win over UAB, and Georgia Southern outlasted UMass, 34-13 to go along with the Appalachian State and Louisiana-Monroe victories.