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App State Looks for First Win of the Season at Charlotte on Saturday

Photo courtesy of Appalachian State Athletics

By Tim Gardner

It will be a non-conference football clash this Saturday, September 8 between a pair of North Carolina schools when the Sun Belt member Appalachian State Mountaineers travel to the University of North Carolina at Charlotte to play the Conference USA 49ers at Richardson Stadium.

Of course, Charlotte will have plenty of fans on hand. But it may be like a mini-home game for the Mountaineers as the Charlotte Metro region represents Appalachian State’s largest alumni base.

Appalachian State battled valiantly before falling 45-38 in overtime at tenth-ranked Penn State last Saturday. Charlotte was victorious in its season opener, beating lower level (Football Championship Subdivision) Fordham 34-10 at home.

This week’s game will be the first that Appalachian State and Charlotte have played with both being Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) schools.

Appalachian State operates from multiple formations offensively (the Spread to a large extent) and from a 3-4 base defensively. Charlotte also uses a Spread offense and a 3-4 defense.

Appalachian State is led by Scott Satterfield, who is in his sixth-year as a collegiate head coach—all with the Mountaineers. He has compiled a 41-23 record. The 2018 season is Satterfield’s 23rd as a player or coach with the Mountaineers. Satterfield guided the Mountaineers into FBS, winning their final six games to close out their first FBS season in 2014, and then led Appalachian State as it posted a Sun Belt Conference-record 11 overall wins during the program’s first bowl-eligible season in 2015, captured their first Sun Belt championship during a 10-win season in 2016 and won another Sun Belt in which a 34-0 shutout of Toledo capped a nine-win (9-4) 2017 campaign.

In 2011, Brad Lambert took on the responsibility of building the 49ers upstart football program from scratch. Now in his eighth overall season as the program’s architect, Lambert and the 49ers are into their sixth season of competition and fourth season at the FBS level.  

The 49ers played for two years (2013; 2014) as an FCS Independent before making their debut in the FBS as a member of Conference USA in 2015. Lambert has an 18-41 record.

Charlotte was only 1-11 a season ago.

For the second straight game, Appalachian State will be facing a team with a first-year offensive coordinator.

Penn State had a new coordinator in Ricky Rahne, and Shane Montgomery is in charge of Charlotte’s offense after serving in the same role at Youngstown State from 2010-17. He played quarterback at N.C. State from 1986-89 and was a three-year starter for the Wolfpack.

The Mountaineers threw a mighty scare into Penn State, taking the lead with less than two minutes to play in regulation. But Appalachian State gave up a big kick return to set up a short field for the Nittany Lions, who tied the game, went ahead in overtime and stopped Appalachian State’s last drive with an interception to avoid what would have been a major upset.

Appalachian State quarterback Zac Thomas had a big game in his starting debut, completing 25-of-38 passes for 270 yards with two touchdowns and the interception. He also ran for 43 yards and a touchdown. Jalin Moore ran the ball 18 times for a team-best 88 yards and a touchdown, which gave Appalachian State a 38-31 lead with1:47 to play in regulation. He also caught five passes for 36 yards. Corey Xavier Sutton led the Mountaineers with six receptions for 87 yards. Thomas Hennigan (28 yards) and Malik Williams each had four receptions. Williams caught two touchdown passes and finished with 66 receiving yards.

Chandler Staton made all five extra points and was one of two on field goal attempts for the Mountaineers at Penn State. He nailed a field goal from 38 yards, but missed one from 56 yards with 15 seconds to play in regulation that could have won the game.

Despite surrendering 45 points to Penn State, the Mountaineer defense played well, limiting Heisman Trophy candidate Trace McSorley to 229 passing yards, including only 128 through the first three quarters. In the secondary, cornerbacks Clifton Duck and Tae Hayes tackled well while keeping Penn state’s receivers in front of them, and safeties Desmond Franklin and Josh Thomas forced consecutive three-and-outs in the fourth quarter with third-down hurries of McSorley.

Also benefiting from the interior play of defensive tackle MyQuon Stout, who constantly drew double-teams, inside linebackers Jordan Fehr and Anthony Flory combined for 17 tackles to help lead the Appalachian State stop force.

In addition to Stout, Appalachian State will rely all season on the quickness of its deep defensive line, which got a first-game sack from Demetrius Taylor.

Against Fordham, the 49ers trailed 7-6 in the second quarter and held a narrow 13-10 advantage in the early part of the third quarter before pulling away with 21 unanswered points to close the game. Charlotte had a large (488-287) advantage in total offense and made a pick six to help key the win when Juwan Foggie closed the scoring with a 26-yard return in the fourth quarter to seal the win.

Chris Reynolds completed 13-of-20 passes for 267 yards and a touchdown in his first start at quarterback for the 49ers. The 5-foot-11 redshirt freshman joined the program as a preferred walk-on and beat out 2017 starter Hasaan Klugh and Miami transfer Evan Shirreffs for the starting job.

Running back Benny LeMay had a solid game with 25 carries for 135 yards and two touchdowns, and finished with 218 all-purpose yards. Keshaun McGaugh added 52 yards on only three carries while Aaron McAllister had eight carries for 41 yards.

Reynolds’ primary receiving target in the 2018 opener was redshirt freshman Victor Tucker, whose seven-catch; 127-yard effort included a 60-yard gain and a touchdown. LeMay also had three receptions for 83 yards. Workpeh Kofa hauled in two passes for 60 yards for the 49ers.

Appalachian State’s front seven must slow down the Charlotte running game–particularly LeMay.

Duck and LeMay were teammates at Charlotte’s Butler High School, where they won a state championship as varsity freshmen in 2012. Duck had an interception in that state title game.

The 49ers’ big offensive line features two returning starters in left guard Cameron Clark, and right guard Darren Drake, who played center in 2017. Charlotte has good size up front offensively as it two starting guards and two starting tackles weigh between 295 and 307 pounds.

Like Appalachian State, Charlotte has a good kicking game. Jonathan Cruz hit all four extra point attempts and two of three field goals against Fordham.

Redshirt freshman punter Clayton Howell also made his college debut for the Mountaineers against Penn State. He had a fourth-quarter punt of 53 yards downed at the 4, helping the Mountaineers score a go-ahead touchdown after they regained possession at the Penn State 42, and a second-quarter punt of 44 yards downed at the 9. Additionally, he drew a fair catch on a 46-yard punt and delivered a 49-yard punt.

The Mountaineers proved the pundits (including yours truly) wrong who picked them to get hammered by Penn State. Whether Appalachian State is even better than its sterling pre-season forecasts (picked by many analysts to be as good or better than in 2017 and again win or finish near the top of the Sun Belt) or Penn State was overrated will be further determined as the season progresses. But this week, the 49ers shouldn’t be a match for Appalachian State, which is clearly the better team. And if the Mountaineers can score 38 points at Penn State, they should score around 50 or more at Charlotte. Expect Appalachian State to pile up the points and get its first win of 2018.

Prediction: Appalachian State 49, Charlotte 7

Date: Saturday, September 8

Kickoff: 6 p.m. EST

Venue: Richardson Stadium, Charlotte, NC