By Tim Gardner
Zac Thomas threw for 295 yards and three touchdowns on perfect 14-of-14 passing and ran for another touchdown to lead a complete performance by Appalachian State, which took a 45-9 road victory against the University of North Carolina at Charlotte Saturday night.
The victory came a week after the Mountaineers lost at tenth-ranked Penn State 45-38 in overtime.
The Mountaineers scored touchdowns on offense, defense and special teams against Charlotte.
Appalachian State (1-1) amassed 434 total yards in front of a record 19,151 fans at Richardson Stadium. And it was the first time an Appalachian State quarterback finished a game with at least 10 completions and no incompletions.
“We had a great week of practice, and it showed,” Appalachian State head coach Scott Satterfield said. “They (Charlotte) took away our running game early on, and we had to go a little bit more with the passing game. Our receivers made some outstanding plays. And our defense kept them (the 49ers) out of the end zone, and that’s huge for us.”
Chandler Staton got the game’s scoring started when he kicked a 31-yard field goal with 10:25 left in the first quarter to give the Mountaineers a 3-0 lead. A 19-yard run by Jalin Moore to move the chains on a third-and-6 play keyed the scoring drive.
Thomas ran to the right for a 5-yard touchdown with 1:03 remaining in the opening period. Staton made the point-after kick to push Appalachian State’s advantage to 10-0.
Jonathan Cruz then kicked a 46-yard field goal at the 9:05 mark of the second quarter to pull the 49ers within 10-3.
Thomas followed the 49ers’ field goal with a pair of drive-opening completions to freshman tight end Henry Pearson for 17 and 14 yards. That series ended when Thomas tossed a 27-yard touchdown pass to Corey Sutton, who became the first Appalachian State player to need less than four catches to gain 150 receiving yards in a game.
Staton kicked the extra point to push Appalachian State’s lead to fourteen points at 17-3 with 6:46 left in the half.
The teams then combined for a touchdown, an extra point and two field goals in the last 1:37 of the first half.
Charlotte (1-1) got within 17-6 when Cruz kicked a 54-yard field goal. The Mountaineers then struck again only 54 seconds later when Dominique Heath caught a 7-yard touchdown pass from Thomas. Staton nailed the point-after kick for a 24-6 cushion with 43 seconds left in the half
Malik Williams gained 38 yards on a pass from Thomas to set up the touchdown.
But the 49ers came right back with their third field goal when Cruz connected from 48 yards with only eight seconds remaining in the half to cut Appalachian State’s lead to 24-9.
The three field goals by Cruz were the most in a game for the 49ers — with the 54-yarder the longest by a freshman in school history.
But the Appalachian State defense held Charlotte scoreless in the second half.
And the Mountaineers extended their lead to 31-9 with 6:01 left in the third quarter. After forcing the 49ers to punt, Thomas Hennigan returned Kyle Corbett’s punt 59 yards for a touchdown. Staton added the PAT.
Then, fifteen seconds into the final period (14:45), Sutton caught one of Thomas’ final passes at the Appalachian State 25, turned up the field and darted the final 75 yards for a touchdown.
That score by Sutton ranks as the longest receiving touchdown in school history.
Staton kicked the extra point to give the Mountaineers a commanding 38-9 lead.
Sutton finished with155 yards on three receptions.
Appalachian State added another insurance touchdown with 9:28 remaining. Charlotte’s Calvin Camp fumbled from near his own goal line and Austin Exford recovered the ball in the endzone for the Mountaineers. Staton made the last of his six PATs to provide the game’s final scoring tally.
Exford (six tackles, including 1.5 for loss), Noel Cook (seven tackles with one sack and two tackles for loss), Akeem Davis-Gaither (team-high eight tackles), Anthony Flory (six tackles) and Desmond Franklin (47-yard interception return) led an Appalachian State defense that recorded three sacks, nine tackles for loss and seven quarterback hurries while keeping the 49ers (1-1) out of the end zone.
The Mountaineers will host their first home game of the 2018 season next Saturday (September 15) in Boone’s Kidd Brewer Stadium against the Southern Miss Eagles (1-1). Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m.