By Tim Gardner
In a wild offensive shootout, the North Carolina Tar Heels escaped Boone with a 63-61 win over Appalachian State on Saturday after the Mountaineers failed on consecutive two-point conversions in the game’s final minute and despite surrendering 40 fourth-quarter points at Kidd-Brewer Stadium.
Played before a record crowd of 40,168 fans for North Carolina’s first visit to Appalachian State, the game between the in-state schools was perhaps the most gigantically anticipated in Mountaineer history. The game had been sold on for a long time, and according to reports, the cheapest ticket on the resale market was going for $158 on StubHub for a general admission ticket. Prices were also reportedly as high as $810 for a seat in a club suite.
“I want to say thank you to App Nation — what an incredible atmosphere we had out there today with 40,000 fans to set an all-time attendance record,” Appalachian State head coach Shawn Clark said. “(This was) a great football game. Why we don’t play these in-state football games every single year blows my mind. But I’m very proud of our football team. We were down 20 in the fourth, and our guys never quit. We just didn’t come out on top. We’re going to have a helluva football team.”
Four touchdowns were scored during the game’s last four minutes, including an amazing three in its final 31 seconds.
Tied at 49, North Carolina quarterback Drake Maye found D.J. Jones wide open on a 42-yard catch-and-run with 2:50 to play. And following Noah Burnette’s conversion kick, the Tar Heels led 56-49.
Appalachian State quarterback Chase Brice then threw a 28-yard touchdown pass to Dashaun Davis to pull within a point of the Tar Heels at 56-55 with 31 seconds left. Instead of going for the game-tying extra point, Appalachian State went for the two-point conversion.
Davis went in motion and got wide open. He turned around and even slowed down because he was so open. But that might have cost him making the catch. Brice threw the ball just slightly over his head and Davis couldn’t pull down the reception.
“I had made my mind up early that we were going for two and the win,” Clark noted. “We’re not going for second place at Appalachian State.”
The incompletion forced the Mountaineers (0-1) to try an onside kick. Bryson Nesbit recovered the ball for the Tar Heels and instead of simply falling on it, he returned the kick 43 yards for a touchdown to put North Carolina up 63-55.
But the touchdown return gave Appalachian State the ball one more time with a chance to score a touchdown and a two-point conversion to tie the game.
Milan Tucker returned the kickoff 47 yards for Appalachian State. Then, the first of those two needed scores for the Mountaineers happened when Brice hit Kaedin Robinson for a 26-yard touchdown pass with nine seconds left to cut the deficit to two again.
But North Carolina’s defense got a stop on the game-tying two-point attempt. Brice was chased down by Tar Heel linebacker Noah Taylor and lineman Kaimon Rucker made a jarring hit to force the ball loose to keep Brice from taking it across the goal line.
The Tar Heels then got the ball and ran out the game clock to hold on for the victory.
Neither team play consistently well defensively as the teams combined for more than 1,200 yards of total offense and 62 fourth-period points.
Appalachian State exploded for 664 yards, while North Carolina had 567 yards. Both teams averaged more than six yards per run, while Brice and North Carolina quarterback Drake Maye combined to throw for 10 touchdowns.
Maye was 24-of-36 passing for 352 yards and four touchdowns. He also ran for 76 yards and a touchdown.
Brice completed 25-of-37 passes for 376 yards and a school-record six touchdowns. Christian Wells, Henry Pearson, Miller Gibbs, Christian Horn, Davis and Robinson had touchdown receptions for the Mountaineers.
Appalachian State had a 21-7 lead early in the second quarter. But North Carolina (2-0) then scored 34 consecutive points to take a 20-point lead. Maye scored on a run to start the second half, and Burnette tacked on field goals from 47 and 44 yards as the Tar Heels built a commanding 41-21 cushion before having to hang on in the frantic fourth period.
The Mountaineers still trailed by fourteen points (49-35) with less than 10 minutes remaining before tying the score at 49 with four minutes to play.
Nate Noel rushed for a game-high 116 yards on 14 carries with two touchdowns for Appalachian State. His teammate and fellow running-back Camerun Peoples added a touchdown.
The game also marked the return of Mack Brown to Appalachian State. Brown, who is in his second tenure as North Carolina’s head coach, served as the Mountaineers head coach in 1983 when their playing facility was named Conrad Stadium. Brown still maintains a presence in the North Carolina High Country as he has had a home in the nearby Avery County township of Linville for several years.
Appalachian State next plays at number six-rankedTexas A&M on Saturday, September 10. The game starts at 3:30 (Eastern Standard Time-EST) and will be broadcast nationally on ESPN2 television.