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Appalachian State runs past Charlotte for a 35-20 victory

The Mountaineers used a monstrous performance on the ground the fend off the 49ers.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 29 South Alabama at Appalachian State

Marcus Williams Jr. and Camerun Peoples both turned in 100-yard days on the ground to propel the Mountaineers to a 35-20 victory over Charlotte. Following a Mountaineer turnover deep in their own territory, the 49ers had a chance to tie the game with five minutes to play, but the Appalachian defense tightened when it mattered most.

The Mountaineers dominated in total yardage, out-gaining the 49ers 512 to 286 on a rainy, fan-less afternoon in Boone. Three turnovers, two of which came in the red zone, kept things close late into the fourth quarter.

The first turnover came on the Mountaineers' first possession, which looked as if it would result in a walk-in touchdown. Malik Williams Jr. lunged towards the goal-line but was met by the senior-combo Ben DeLuca and Luke Martin.

DeLuca jarred the ball loose and Troy transfer Tyler Murray made his first play as a 49er recovering the fumble. The 49ers got the ground game going as another newcomer, Tre Harbison, carried five times for 52 yards and a 14-yard touchdown scamper to give Charlotte a 7-0 lead.

App State responded from a scoreless first quarter with two touchdowns in as many possessions to take the lead, 14-7. The 49ers’ defense gave up 18 yards on a 3rd and 16, and nine plays later Marcus Williams Jr. punched it in from a yard out to put the Mountaineers up seven.

Taylor Thompson, a freshman tight end from Alabama had a solid debut with the 49ers as he posted two catches for 62 yards. In one game, Thompson fell just two yards short of Cameron Roberson’s 2019 season total of 64 yards - the highest yardage total for a 49er tight end. Following a 41-yard completion to Thompson, the 49ers were in business at the Mountaineers 10-yard line. Appalachian’s defense stood tall and forced a 23-yard Jonathon Cruz field goal to pull the 49ers within four.

Following a horrific special teams outing in the 2019 matchup with the Mountaineers, Charles Bankins’ group had a spectacular showing and kept Charlotte competitive throughout.

Appalachian State took over with 1:52 left in the first half and proceeded to drive deep into enemy territory. Following a defensive pass interference penalty, the Mountaineers lined up for a 34-yard field goal with three seconds left in the first half. Charlotte’s Damon Weldon broke through and blocked the kick, giving the 49ers momentum heading into the halftime break.

Following a non-existent halftime show the two teams retook the field as the rain intensified.

The Mountaineers went three-and-out to start the third quarter, and the 49ers looked to capitalize as big gains by Rico Arnold and Taylor Thompson positioned them in Appalachian territory. On 3rd and 1, the 49ers elected to pass, and Chris Reynolds’ throw was tipped and intercepted by Brendan Harrington. Following a 46-yard interception return, the Mountaineers set up shop with a chance to go up two scores. The Charlotte defense forced their second red-zone turnover of the afternoon as Tyler Murray picked off Zac Thomas on a fourth and short.

Rico Arnold returned after missing the entire 2019 season with injury.
Credit - Charlotte Football

The 49ers drove 55 yards on 12 plays and Jonathon Cruz connected from 49 yards out to make 14-13, Mountaineers lead.

Back-to-back monstrous plays from both teams would have electrified the crowd. What looked to be an easy interception for Charlotte DB Lance McMillian turned into a walk-in touchdown for Thomas Hennigan. McMillian slipped on the play, leaving Hennigan open for a 51-yard bomb to put the Mountaineers up eight. On the ensuing kickoff, Aaron McAllister broke free and took it 97-yards for six - the longest kick return in Charlotte history. The 49ers kicked the point after to make it 21-20 late in the third.

Credit - Charlotte Football

Two back-breaking 3rd down conversions kept the Mountaineers drive alive, and Daetrich Harrington capped off the 14-play drive finding the endzone for his first of two touchdowns on the day. Charlotte’s run game became non-existent in the second half, and Chris Reynolds struggled to get anything going as he completed just 11 of 30 passes for 140 yards and two interceptions.

Tyler Murray continued his monstrous debut as he forced a fumble on the first play of the Mountaineer drive, and Nafees Lyon recovered giving the 49ers the ball in the red zone with a chance to tie. Charlotte scored touchdowns on 74% of their red-zone trips in 2019 but failed to gain a single yard with the game on the line. Will Healy left the offense on the field on 4th and 10 from the Mountaineer 20-yard line and Reynolds’ pass was broken up resulting in a turnover on downs.

The Mountaineers used nearly four minutes of clock and punished the 49er defense with a 6 play, 80-yard touchdown drive to put the finishing touches on a 35-20 season-opening victory.

Timely turnovers and excellent special teams play kept the 49ers within striking distance, but missed opportunities in the red zone cost them their first win over Appalachian State. It was a good showing for the 49ers, but Will Healy and co. still aren’t pleased.

“This year was totally different compared to last year,” head coach Will Healy said after the game. “Last year I was worried about them taking it as a moral victory because of what had happened to us in the past. This year, I don’t have to worry about that. They understand they got beat by a great football team.”


NOTES

  • Ben DeLuca suffered a season-ending injury against the Mountaineers in week two of 2019, but returned to the field with a team-high 16 tackles
  • Tyler Murray’s debut was tremendous - 14 tackles, an interception, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery
  • Thomas Hennigan caught all five of his targets for 120 yards and a touchdown
  • Zac Thomas completed 14 of his 21 attempts for 204 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT
  • The Mountaineers moved the chains 29 times compared to Charlotte’s 16
  • Tre Harbison carried 17 times for 87 yards and a TD in his first game with Charlotte
  • Appalachian rushed for 308 total yards on the ground
  • Shawn Clark is off to a 2-0 start in his tenure with Appalachian State

WHAT’S NEXT?

Charlotte (0-1) faces another tall task as they head to Chapel Hill to take on Mack Brown’s North Carolina Tar Heels (1-0). The Heels are ranked #12 in the nation and are coming off a 31-6 route of Syracuse. This will be the first meeting between the two programs.

The Mountaineers (1-0) matchup with Marshall as both teams look to stay undefeated. The last time these teams met was in 2002 where Marshall routed the Mountaineers 50-17. We will get to see the Herd’s new QB Grant Wells against a stout defensive unit.