By Tim Gardner
Wide Receiver Thomas Hennigan caught a 51-yard touchdown pass and running back Dietrich Harrington ripped off two fourth-quarter scoring runs as the Appalachian State University Mountaineers beat Charlotte 35-20 in the season opener for both schools on a rainy Saturday at Kidd Brewer Stadium in Boone.
Due to state COVID-19 restrictions, Appalachian State allowed only 50 fans to attend the game, all parents of Mountaineers seniors, and tailgating was not permitted.
When senior safety Kaiden Smith intercepted a pass at the Appalachian State 22-yard line with 32 seconds left, the celebration for head coach Shawn Clark‘s first regular season win began.
The Mountaineers were penalized seven times for 65 yards, some of which allowed Charlotte to continue on what would be eventual scoring drives. Appalachian State also had three turnovers, leading to ten 49ers points.
But the Mountaineers outgained Charlotte 512-286 in total offense.
The teams exchanged big plays in the final two minutes of the third quarter. Hennigan scored down the right side after a defender slipped on the wet turf. But Aaron McAllister returned the ensuing kickoff a school-record 97 yards, breaking a tackle on the left sideline to pull Charlotte within a point, 21-20.
Harrington ran up the middle for a 4-yard score to push the Mountaineers’ lead to 28-20 early in the fourth quarter. After a Charlotte fumble recovery, Appalachian State held the 49ers to no yards at the Appalachian State 20. Then Harrington added a 15-yard run with 1:15 remaining to help seal the win.
Herrington finished with 120 receiving yards. Marcus Williams Jr. ran for 117 yards and a score and Cameron Peoples added 102 yards and another touchdown for the Mountaineers, who finished with 308 rushing yards.
Appalachian State quarterback Zac Thomas added 204 yards passing with a touchdown, while suffering one interception.
Inside linebacker Trey Cobb led Appalachian State’s defense with eight tackles, including 1.5 for loss, and Defensive Back Shemar Jean-Charles had four pass breakups to go along with seven stops. Defensive lineman Caleb Spurlin recorded a key sack and outside linebacker Brendan Harrington gained 46 yards on an interception return.
Charlotte’s other scoring came from Trey Harbison on a 14-yard touchdown run and two PAT kicks and field goals of 23 and 49 yards by Jonathan Cruz.
Tyler Murray forced a fumble, recovered another and made an interception for the 49ers.
Chandler Staton nailed all five of his PAT attempts for the Mountaineers.
Appalachian State has won four straight Sun Belt Conference titles and finished 19th in last season’s Associated Press Top 25 poll after a 13-1 season.
The Mountaineers will play at Marshall in Huntington, MWV nest Saturday, September 19, with a 1:30 p.m. kickoff.
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