By Tim Gardner
The Appalachian State University Mountaineers won the inaugural game of the Eliah Drinkwitz head coaching era by defeating East Tennessee State 42-7 Saturday in Boone’s Kidd Brewer Stadium. A crowd of 25,147 attended.
“I’m just really proud of our guys, proud of our team,” Drinkwitz stated.”They stuck together. Obviously, we started off a little slow on the offensive side of the ball. The defense did a great job keeping the other team out of the end zone. I told our team at our staff meeting on Friday regardless of what happened we had to get a lot better, whether we won or lost we knew we were going to have to take what was on tape and get a lot better. There’s a lot of things we’ve got to work on, starting with me and all the way through offense, defense and special teams. But, it’s great to be 1-0. It’s hard to win college football games.”
After a three-and-out on their first offensive series, the FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision-Major Level) Mountaineers engineered a 13-play; 84-yard drive that ended in a one-yard touchdown keeper by redshirt junior quarterback Zac Thomas with 2:58 remaining in the opening quarter.
Chandler Staton added the point-after kick for a 7-0 lead.
The drive featured some big plays, including a 23-yard run by Darrynton Evans, a 27-yard run by Thomas and three receptions from wide receiver Thomas Hennigan.
Appalachian State (1-0) pushed its lead to 14-0 with 6:06 left in the half when Malik Williams caught a 6-yard touchdown pass from Thomas. Staton converted the extra point kick. The drive covered 48 yards in seven plays.
The Mountaineers were aided by a defensive pass interference when Thomas was trying to hit Hennigan in the back-right corner of the end zone. Thomas then connected with Williams on the next play for the score.
Thomas went 16-of-24 passing with three total touchdowns and 182 combined yards. 150 were by passing.
The Mountaineers took the second half kickoff and built their cushion to 21-0 in just 3:25. Evans scored on a 13-yard run and Staton tacked on the extra point at the 11:35 mark of the third period.
An 11-yard run by Evans and 15-yard pass from Thomas to Keishawn Watson on third down moved the chains before Camerun Peoples gained 17 yards on a carry to the East Tennessee State 13. Evans sprinted into the end zone on the next play.
The drive took eleven plays and covered 75 yards.
Evans rushed 14 times for 99 yards as the Mountaineers totaled 277 yards on the ground.
FCS (Football Championmship Subdivision-Lower Level) East Tennessee State (0-1) answered on the ensuing possession, going 86 yards in twelve plays to get its first points. All of those came on passes from Trey Mitchell, who entered the game at quarterback in place of an injured Chance Thrasher. Mitchell tossed a 10-yard pass to Jamal Carter to give the Buccaneers a first-and-goal at the Appalachian State 5-yard line. On the next play, Nate Adkins caught a touchdown pass from Mitchell with 4:35 to go in the third quarter. Tyler Keltner added the point-after kick to pull East Tennessee within 21-7.
The Mountaineers pushed their lead back to 21 points at 28-7 with fifty-one seconds to go in the period when Thomas passed to Hennigan, who avoided two Buccaneers mid-air for a 31-yard touchdown. Staton made the PAT.
The drive was eight plays and covered 75 yards and took 3:44.
Evans had a 24-yard reception to open the series.
Hennigan finished with a career high seven catches for 79 yards.
Appalachian State defensive end Caleb Spurlin ended an East Tennessee State scoring threat by batting down a fourth-down pass, and the Mountaineers responded with a 10-play scoring drive that concluded with Jalen Virgil’s first career touchdown run.
Virgil, for all intents and purposes, put the game away when he scored from 15 yards with 9:34 remaining. Staton added the extra point conversion kick as Appalachian State’s lead swelled to 35-7.
That drive covered 67 yards in ten plays and took 4:40.
The Mountaineers added some insurance points with 5:52 left. Reserve quarterback Jacob Huesman passed to Christian Wells for a 17-yard touchdown and Staton added his seventh extra point conversion kick to make the tally 42-7.
That drive covered 40 yards in just four plays and took only 2:13.
Defensively, the Mountaineers allowed 292 total yards. Desmond Franklin tied Akeem Davis-Gaither for the team lead with seven tackles apiece, Shaun Jolly had six tackles in his first career start at cornerback and defensive tackle E.J. Scott produced two big stops behind the line of scrimmage. In the final minute, Kaleb Dawson recovered a fumble forced by Hansky Paillant.
Appalachian State hosts Charlotte next week. Last season, the Mountaineers won handily (45-9) over the 49ers in the first matchup between the schools.