The college football masses descended upon Bank of America Stadium for the Duke’s Mayo Classic on Thursday night, bearing witness to a decisive victory as Appalachian State took East Carolina to the woodshed early and coasted late, 33-19.
Both squads came out and exhibited some expected debut jitters before getting into a groove fairly quickly. Pirates QB Holton Ahlers found his freshman tailback Keaton Mitchell on a 63-yard screen pass where he simply outran the defense into the endzone, before Appalachian’s newly acquired gunslinger Chase Brice found veteran target Thomas Hennigan on a 34-yard dime on the next possession to take a 7-6 lead, thanks to ECU’s missed PAT.
Appalachian OC Frank Ponce fed the ECU defense a balanced diet with his pro up-tempo scheme, with Myrtle Beach Bowl star Camerun Peoples taking a 21-yard scamper to paydirt to take a 14-6 lead at the end of the first quarter.
A largely uneventful second frame almost had a game-changing moment when a Hail Mary toss from Ahlers to C.J. Johnson as time expired from 40 yards out was originally ruled a Pirate touchdown, but was overturned on further review after being ruled an interception at the goal line, keeping the ASU lead at 20-6 heading into the second half.
The ferocity from the Mountaineer front seven kept East Carolina from building any sort of momentum, holding the Pirates offense to just 19 yards on the ground in the first half with a measly 1-for-7 third down conversion rate.
Unluckily for the fans of the Greenville faithful, the second half was simply adding more fuel to a black and gold fire. Corey Sutton netted his first receiving touchdown of the 2021 campaign after sitting out in 2020, with Peoples finding his way into the endzone for his second score of the day to solidify a 33-9 lead with just over 12 minutes to play.
Showing signs of life although a little too late to make an impact, ECU paired a 39-yard FG with Oklahoma transfer Ryan Jones’ first score as a Pirate to trim the lead down to two possessions with 1:54 remaining. After failing to recover the onside kick, Appalachian drowned out the clock to seal their first victory of the young season.
The Mountaineer backfield pairing of Camerun Peoples and Nate Noel combined for 226 yards on 29 carries, with receiver Thomas Hennigan racking up 114 yards on just 4 catches. Holton Ahlers went 22-for-40 with 295 passing yards, two scores and an interception in a losing effort behind center for ECU. Son of Super Bowl champion Anthony Mitchell, Pirate freshman Keaton Mitchell accounted for 130 all-purpose yards and a score in his 2021 debut.
Appalachian State will load up for a trip down to the Sunshine State for a date with Miami (FL) next Saturday, meeting the Hurricanes for the first time since 2016’s 45-10 UM win.
East Carolina will mend their wounds and prepare for South Carolina, hosting the Gamecocks for their 20th meeting all-time and the first in Greenville since 1997.