By Tim Gardner
The Appalachian State University Mountaineers kicked off the 2021 football season with a 33-19 win over the East Carolina University Pirates Thursday night at Bank of America Stadium in the neutral site of Charlotte, NC before 36,752 spectators and a ESPNU National Television audience.
Rolling up 489 yards of offense against one of college football’s weakest returning defenses won’t make Appalachian State as a National Championship contender. But various indications from the game point to the Mountaineers having a stellar season.
Running back Camerun Peoples rushed for 43 yards on his first four carries of the game, including a 21-yard touchdown that put the Mountaineers up 14-6 in the opening period. Peoples finished with 100 yards on 14 carries. He also scored a fourth-quarter touchdown run of 12 yards.
Sophomore Nate Noel led the Mountaineers (1-0) in rushing with 126 yards on 15 carries.
East Carolina (0-1) took an early 6-0 lead on its second possession. After forcing Appalachian State to a three-and-out, Pirates quarterback Holton Ahlers connected with running back Keaton Mitchell on a screen pass. Mitchell broke free and darted 63 yards down the left sideline for a touchdown with 10:22 remaining in the first period. Owen Daffer missed the extra point kick.
The ensuing possession was capped by a 34-yard touchdown pass from Appalachian State quarterback Chase Brice to wide receiver Thomas Hennigan that tied the game. Chandler Staton then kicked the point-after to put the Mountaineers up 7-6 and ahead to stay.
Staton made two field goals in the second period–from 21 yards at the 10:16 mark and then from 43 yards at the 3:40 mark– to provide the Mountaineers with their remaining six first-half points.
East Carolina capped a 10-play, 66-yard scoring drive in the third quarter with a field goal by Daffer to cut Appalachian State’s lead to 20-9. However, Appalachian State quickly answered the score–only two plays later– when Brice hit Corey Sutton for an 18-yard touchdown pass. Staton’s conversion kick boosted the score to 27-9.
East Carolina rallied to score 10 points in the fourth quarter on an Daffer field goal (39 yards) and a 38-yard touchdown pass from Ahlers to tight end Ryan Jones. The latter was followed by Daffer’s point-after kick.
On the second play of the second quarter, a 57-yard touchdown run by Ahlers was nullified by a holding call. Instead of having first-and-goal, East Carolina punted two plays later from its own 43.
To end the first half, Ahlers threw a Hail Mary pass that was called a touchdown on the field. Had the call stood, the score would have been 20-12 (PAT pending). But the Sun Belt Conference officiating crew, after a long replay process, overturned the call to an interception.
The Pirates were penalized seven times for 90 yards and surrendered four sacks.
Brice finished with 259 passing yards, while Ahlers had 295.
The game was already decided with the Mountaineers ahead 33-9 late in the fourth quarter. But their strong safety Nick Ross was ejected then for targeting. He’ll have to miss the first half of next week’s game at Miami.