App State defeats UNC in historic 34-31 win


Lynette Files

Senior linebacker Jordan Fehr and redshirt freshman outside linebacker Nick Hampton jump to block a field goal on the final play of the game to seal the 34-31 victory for the Mountaineers.

Silas Albright, Reporter

App State players, fans and coaches have had Sept. 21, 2019 circled on the calendar since the three-game series with UNC was announced in 2017.

Game day finally arrived and the Mountaineers did not let the moment slip away as they knocked off the Tar Heels 34-31 at Kenan Memorial Stadium for its first 3-0 start to the season since 2010 and first win over a Power Five team since 2007.

“It wasn’t going to be an upset,” head coach Eliah Drinkwitz said. “We belonged on that football field today and we wanted to prove it.” 

UNC started the game off with a bang, taking the opening kickoff 75 yards and then scoring a touchdown on the first play from scrimmage to take an early 7-0 lead.

The Mountaineers got the ball back and drove to the UNC four yard line before junior quarterback Zac Thomas was sacked on third and goal. App State settled for a 31-yard field goal from junior kicker Chandler Staton, who split the uprights for three points.

After allowing that early touchdown, the Mountaineer defense took over in the first quarter. UNC went three-and-out on its next drive, and then had the next drive end in a strip-sack fumble recovery for a 20-yard touchdown from junior defensive lineman Demetrius Taylor. App State led 13-7 after the first quarter.

“I felt like I was going to catch him the whole time,” Taylor said. “Once he settled down and tried to set his feet and throw the ball, it was just over from there.”

In the second quarter, Taylor tipped a pass and held on to it for an interception and his second takeaway of the day. Taylor’s interception set the Mountaineer offense up at UNC’s 26-yard line. The Mountaineers scored on a 5-yard rush from junior running back Darrynton Evans to take a 20-7 lead with 12:24 left in the second quarter.  

Lynette Files
App State players celebrate with fans after a 34-31 win over UNC.

UNC was able to score on a 25-yard field goal and App State scored another touchdown before the Tar Heels drove 75-yards in just under three minutes to score a touchdown and make it 27-17 after the first half.  

Both defenses were able to hold the other team scoreless until the Tar Heels marched 98 yards to cut the score to 27-24 with under five minutes left in the third.

Thomas responded with a 31-yard pass to Thomas Hennigan followed by a 43-yard connection with Malik Williams to get to the UNC three yard line. Evans punched in his third touchdown of the game on a 3-yard run and brought the Mountaineers back up two possessions with 2:11 left in the third quarter. 

“It gave everyone on our sideline that energy,” Drinkwitz said. “I knew if we could keep it a two-score game that we were going to win.” 

In the fourth quarter, both defenses held and the only score came when Howell led his team up the field and scored the first rushing touchdown of his career to make it 34-31 with 3:01 left in the game.

The Mountaineers were able to run 2:31 off the clock before they were forced to give the ball back to the Tar Heels. UNC started at their own 20-yard line with 30 seconds left to play. They made it to the 39-yard line of App State before the field goal unit came on for a 56-yard attempt. The kick was tipped by senior linebacker Akeem Davis-Gaither and fell short, giving the Mountaineers their first win over a Power Five opponent since its 2007 win at Michigan.

Lynette Files
Junior Quarterback Zac Thomas runs in a 34-31 win over UNC. Thomas finished the game with 56 yards rushing on six carries.

Senior linebacker Jordan Fehr had a game-high 15 total tackles and fellow senior linebacker Akeem Davis-Gaither finished second on the team with eight total tackles. Davis-Gaither also has his first career interception toward the end of the third quarter. 

The Mountaineers out-tackled the Tar Heels 93-66 in the game while holding UNC to 7-of-16 on third down conversions. 

Thomas finished the game with 224 yards and an interception on 20-of-29 passing. He rushed for 57 yards on six carries. 

Evans racked up 78 yards and all three of App State’s offensive touchdowns on 19 carries. Wide receiver Corey Sutton caught seven passes for 58 yards in his first game of the season.

Malik Williams caught six passes for a career high 78 yards and Hennigan caught six passes for 90 yards. 

“It’s an indescribable feeling,” Hennigan said. “I can’t put into words right now how much this means to us as a football team, and then as a university and then as a fanbase.”

The Mountaineers will shift its focus to conference play next week when they host Coastal Carolina on Sept. 28. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m. from Kidd Brewer Stadium.