A game day to remember: The day the Heels came to Boone


Hiatt Ellis

Frontline fans in the student section cheer and yell in excitement for the kickoff of the 2022 season. Students were camped out as early as 6 a.m. for the in-state matchup.

Dan Davidson and Will Hofmann

Shades of black and gold filled the horizon, as the sound of “Hi Hi Yikas,’” App State’s fight song, pounded in the ears of over 40,000 football fans. 

Along to the tune, the crowd screamed:

“Go Apps!”

“Fight Apps!”

“Go, fight, kick … ” 

This was not just any college football game; this was an App State football game. 

On Sept. 3, a record 40,168 football fans packed Kidd Brewer Stadium to attend the thrilling, and for some, heartbreaking App State-North Carolina game, smashing the previous record of 35,126 attendees set in 2017.

Leading up to the game, App State fans donned their black and gold overalls, scrambled to obtain tickets and found inventive ways to celebrate what Doug Gillin, App State director of Athletics, called “the biggest event in the history of Boone, North Carolina.” 

Festivities for the big day began well before sunrise, as SYC members lined up outside of the Echota West Gate three and a half hours before it would open. By 6:30 a.m., tens of the most eager App State fans were congregated outside of The Rock, awaiting the 9 a.m. opening of the gates. 

“We are going to absolutely sprint our way to that student section,” App State sophomore and SYC member Clyde Jung said. “The 50-yard-line is absolutely going to be packed with that black and gold. UNC fans have no idea what is about to happen.” 

Mountaineer tailgaters prepare for a showdown with the Tar Heels by ripping apart a UNC shirt Sept. 3, 2022. (Will Moore)

While the line to enter the stadium grew to be several hundred, tailgating was already in full swing across the App State campus. Fans from all around the state, wearing black and gold, and Carolina blue and white, departed their homes early to arrive in Boone well before the noon kickoff. 

App State class of 1995 baseball player Matt Russell left his Beech Mountain home early to soak in every bit of the first Mountaineer game day of the season. 

“This has got a heightened elevation,” Russell said. “We’re looking to beat the Tar Heels.”

Another App State alum, Grant Walker, left Raleigh for Boone Thursday to enjoy the entirety of game day weekend in the High Country. When describing the atmosphere in Peacock Lot, Walker simply called it “incredible. Absolutely incredible.”

Fans decked in Carolina blue and white were sprinkled throughout tailgating lots, often enjoying food and laughs with friends and family who wore the home black and gold. One fan dressed in Tar Heel colors was experiencing his first game day in Boone. 

“It’s pretty good. Good food, a lot of fun people,” Tevon Anglim said. “First time I’ve ever been to an App football game, so, pretty crazy.” 

Student Yosef Club members run into Kidd Brewer Stadium after gates were opened at 9 a.m. Sept. 3, 2022. (Will Moore)

Gates initially opened at 9 a.m. for Student Yosef Club members, and at 9:30 a.m. for all other students. As gates were unlocked and tickets scanned, students sprinted into Kidd Brewer’s west concourse and down into the student section, which quickly filled up. Fans who weren’t able to secure seats in the student section took to Miller Hill, which was also packed by kickoff. 

Membership with the SYC guarantees students tickets to all sporting events, and, as general admission tickets for the Sept. 3 contest sold out July 22, students seemed motivated to join the organization. 

While the 2022 SYC membership goal was 2,000, the organization announced via Twitter Aug. 24 that they had already reached 5,000 members this year. With 20,641 students attending App State in the 2021-22 academic year, the more than 5,000 SYC members make up nearly a fourth of the student population. 

At 9:30 a.m., 30 minutes after security began funneling students into Kidd Brewer, the SYC line wrapped from the west gates, across Stadium Heights Drive, and through the Thunder Hill and Laurel Creek courtyard

As students continued pouring into the stadium, country music singer and App State class of ‘15 Adam Church performed in the recently-renovated Jerry Moore Plaza. “Goin’ Back to Carolina” rang out through the Boone late-summer air as fans approached The Rock in droves of thousands. 

Adam Church, who’s hometown is Boone, NC, performing his pregame concert for fans on both sides of the ball Sept. 3, 2022. This performance consisted of original selections as well as covers of other songs. (Will Moore)

Back in the tailgating lots, some fans found that instead of having just App State fans present at the game, the tailgating experience was diverse, with many more fans traveling from out of town. 

“You can tell that the intensity is here,” App State class of ‘21 Elise Pigue said. “I feel like there are a lot more away fans than normal, which is pretty cool. I mean, it’s the biggest game ever in Boone, for that matter. I had to beg my aunt to get a ticket.” 

Other fans were more in awe of the sheer magnitude of the scene in Boone Sept. 3. 

Over the past 40 years, Bob Powell, App State class of 1983, has watched Boone change from a small college town into the “mega-school” it’s becoming today. 

“I used to come out here, set up a wood stove and chairs and stand around the wood stove in the cold before and after the ball game,” Powell said. “And now you’ve got this. It looks like tent city. It’s like night and day from what it was even just 20 years ago.”

Powell believes App State’s leap from the FCS to the FBS in 2014 is largely the cause of its immense growth in recent years. 

“Which I was concerned about,” Powell said. “I’d rather be a big fish in a small pond. But hey, son of a gun, it worked out.”

Powell also faced a dilemma many Mountaineer fans encountered Saturday — Tar Heel relatives. 

“We’re playing those crazy blue people. She’s a UNC graduate,” Powell said of his wife.

Karen Powell, North Carolina class of ‘84, attended the game with her black and gold-wearing husband. Despite a husband and a nephew who graduated from App State, Karen had to support her Heels. 

“I’m a Mountaineer in every other sense, but today, I’ve got to be authentically me, so I’m a Tar Heel,” Karen Powell said. “We are big Mountaineer fans. If you’ll indulge me just this one game that I can sort of pull for my Tar Heels.”

The line to enter Kidd Brewer Stadium stretched as thousands attended App State vs North Carolina Sept. 3, 2022. (Will Moore)

As kickoff approached, the expected 40,000-plus fans found their way into Kidd Brewer Stadium and filled every seat. Additional bleachers were set up in the north end zone, where the App State band sat rather than its usual place in the Mountaineer student section. 

Just like any other game, “App!” “State!” boomed across the stadium ahead of kickoff, only this time may have been the loudest it’s ever been chanted. As fans welcomed the Mountaineers onto the field, students waved the 5,000 yellow App State towels placed on seats ahead of the game. 

The visiting Tar Heels were welcomed to The Rock by a deafening chorus of boos, and Waka Flocka’s “Hard in Da Paint” blasted from Kidd Brewer’s speakers for the first time in 2022. App State football was ready to kickoff a new season. 

Despite the hype that was built around the matchup for months, the game itself exceeded expectations. 1,261 yards of total offense, a 62-point fourth quarter and two offenses going punch-for-punch down the stretch; App State versus North Carolina was heralded as one of the best games of college football’s week one. 

One drama-filled possession followed another throughout the final quarter, and three touchdowns were scored in the final 31 seconds of the game. App State scored an outlandish 40 points in the fourth quarter as the home crowd urged them to victory with whatever voices they had left. 

With a two-point conversion opportunity and a chance to tie it, the North Carolina defense dragged down App State quarterback Chase Brice one yard short of the goal line, and a collective sigh was released in Kidd Brewer Stadium. The Mountaineers ran out of rocks to sling and came up two points short against their in-state foe. 

After the game, several students sat in shock well after most had departed. Some pondered each play down the stretch, especially the two failed two-point conversions, while others considered how they as fans were unable to will their team to victory. 

“It was definitely a frustrating game when it came to atmosphere, because normally we have pretty good control of it, but week one is always trying to figure stuff out,” App State senior Will Taylor said. “I didn’t feel like we had as much control as we usually do, and that’s normally a big part of the game.”

Taylor largely attributed to it being the first football game of the season, and the first ever for many newcomers, but the strong Carolina crowd also surprised him. 

“We’re used to traveling to other people’s places and filling their stadium up, so having a lot of Chapel Hill fans here really threw off the dynamic a little bit,” Taylor said. 

But not all fans who stuck around were overly saddened by the loss. App State freshman Emma Goodson said her first App State football game brought her even more than everything she expected it to be. 

Yosef leads the Mountaineer student section during App State’s in-state matchup with North Carolina Sept. 3, 2022. (Hiatt Ellis)

“It was crazy, that was so fun,” Goodson said. “I’m not too disappointed because it was a good game, and I’d rather be a Mountaineer than a Tar Heel any day.”

Another Mountaineer fan and alum, Scott Stroupe, attended the game with tickets left by his late brother, who graduated from App State in 1980, seven years prior to Scott. 

“My brother passed away about a year ago. He was the biggest Appalachian fan there ever was,” Stroupe said. “He left me the tickets and so we came back this year and was hoping for a win today, but unfortunately just didn’t happen.”

Ahead of the game, Stroupe, like many fans, was concerned the 40,000 expected attendees would make the atmosphere too crowded to enjoy. 

“I really thought it was going to be almost too crowded,” Stroupe said. “They did a really good job with the crowd, which was impressive.”

Fans weren’t alone in their concerns. Boone Police expected the traffic to be so bad they received help from Charlotte-Mecklenburg police chief, and App State grad, Johnny Jennings, who sent officers to help Boone and App State Police manage traffic before and after the game. 

Some of the aftermath in Kidd Brewer Stadium suggested it may have been too crowded afterall. A fence was broken and pushed down at the base of Miller Hill, and one metal bleacher in the student section completely caved in. 

All-in-all, Sept. 3 was a historic day in Boone. A historic atmosphere cultivated for a historic game. And despite the Mountaineers coming up short, the day the Tar Heels came to Boone will be remembered for many years to come in the High Country.