By Tim Gardner
It was the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. It was fireworks on the Fourth of July. It was perhaps anything but what the general college football enthusiast and prognosticators would have expected from Saturday’s Appalachian State -Charlotte game at Kidd Brewer Stadium in Boone.
Appalachian State began and ended the first half in impressive fashion to help key its 56-41 victory. And Running Back Darrynton Evans answered each big second-half play from the 49ers to keep heavily-favored Mountaineers from suffering an upset.
In a White Out game that drew 29,182 fans, Evans rushed for a career-high 234 yards and totaled four touchdowns, including an 87-yard run on the first play from scrimmage and a 68-yard touchdown run after Charlotte had sliced its deficit to 42-34 midway through the fourth quarter.
The 49ers scored again on a 27-yard touchdown pass with 3:17 remaining to pull within 49-41. But Evans fielded the onside kick and dashed 45 yards untouched for his school-record third touchdown via a kickoff return in his career. He finished with 298 all-purpose yards.
Defensive Back Shaun Jolly’s first career interception in the final minute sealed the victory for Appalachian State (2-0).
Quarterback Zac Thomas threw three touchdown passes for the Mountaineers, including scoring strikes of 10 and 73 yards to wide receiver Jalen Virgil.
Evans’ career-long run (87 yards) put the Mountaineers up for good seven seconds into the game. However, the 49ers (1-1) had possession facing a 14-13 deficit in the final 90 seconds of the half.
Defensive lineman Demetrius Taylor’s forced fumble on a sack led to Inside Linebacker Jordan Fehr’s fumble recovery at the Charlotte 10. Thomas threw a touchdown pass to Virgil on the next play to extend Appalachian State’s lead to 21-13 with 1:14 to go before intermission.
After using three timeouts while the Appalachian State defense forced a three-and-out punt, Jolly used his right hand to block the kick. Inside Linebacker D’Marco Jackson scooped up the loose ball at the Charlotte 16 and raced down the left sideline to score his first career touchdown with 39 seconds remaining in the quarter.
Charlotte never had possession while facing a one-score deficit the rest of the game.
The Mountaineers led 28-13 at the half.
Appalachian State head coach Eliah Drinkwitz offered the following remarks about his team’s triumph: “Any win is a good win. I’m really proud of some guys stepping up and making some individual great plays. Darrynton (Evans) was Superman out there, 234 yards rushing plus a kickoff return for a touchdown. Jalen (Virgil) had three catches, 86 yards and a touchdown. Zac (Thomas) threw three touchdowns. Those three guys stepped up and made some plays. (Shaun) Jolly with the block right before the half was a huge momentum swing and then intercepted the ball at the end of the game.
“I’m really proud of some of those guys. I’m disappointed in the penalties. Obviously, way too many penalties on our team, both offensive and defensive penalties. They’re undisciplined and that comes back to me, and that’s going to be addressed and fixed. Missed tackling was sloppy and poor. We gave up almost 300 yards passing. That’s not something I expected to happen. We will come back tomorrow and get that corrected and move forward. It’s good to be 2-0.”
The 49ers scored a touchdown on its first possession of the third period on a 24-yard pass from Reynolds to Wide Receiver Cameron Dollar, but Evans’ 3-yard touchdown run on the next series and Virgil’s 73-yard touchdown reception late in the third quarter gave the Mountaineers a 42-20 lead.
Thomas took a crushing hit while unleashing the deep throw to Virgil, who caught the ball at the Charlotte 42 and sprinted the rest of the way to the endzone.
Virgil, who finished with three receptions for 86 yards, also gained 45 yards on his first career kick return. Wide Receiver Thomas Hennigan also caught a touchdown pass for the second straight game, scoring on a 5-yard throw from Thomas late in the first quarter.
Wide receiver Malik Williams set career highs for both catches (six) and receiving yards (73).
Chandler Staton made all eight of his extra point kicks for Appalachian State.
Outside Linebacker Akeem Davis-Gaither was part of two sacks while recording a team-best nine tackles to pace Appalachian State’s defense. Taylor and Outside Linebacker Noel Cook added 2.5 tackles for loss, and another Outside Linebacker, Nick Hampton, produced 1.5 sacks.
Quarterback Chris Reynolds completed 20-of-31 passes for 396 yards and four touchdowns for the 49ers. He committed one interception.
Charlotte Running Back Benny Lemay rushed for 122 yards on fourteen carries and scored a pair of touchdowns.
The Mountaineers are off this coming weekend before returning to action on Sept. 21 at the University of North Carolina, coached by former Appalachian State head coach Mark Brown (1983 season).