App State football gets back in win column with dominant 47-10 victory over Troy

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Andy McLean

App State senior quarterback Zac Thomas bounced back from last week’s three interception performance and loss to Coastal Carolina by leading the Mountaineers to a 47-10 win over Troy on Saturday. “I’m proud of our guys. They played lights out, and it was good to get back on the winning side,” Thomas said.

Silas Albright, Reporter

Thanks in large part to a white-hot start on both sides of the ball, App State cruised past Troy 47-10 on Saturday at Kidd Brewer Stadium. At the 7:09 mark in the first quarter, the Mountaineers extended their early lead to 21-0 on a pick-six from junior cornerback Steven Jones, after which the Trojans never recovered.

“We talked all week about being resilient, and that’s what our kids were today,” head coach Shawn Clark said. “They do everything we ask them to do and they came in and really performed well today … We got a lot to play for. We’re sitting here 7-2 with a really good football team.” 

Senior quarterback Zac Thomas bounced back from last week’s tough three-interception performance against Coastal Carolina by throwing for 279 yards and four touchdowns on 22 of 29, or 75.9% passing against the Trojans. The four touchdowns matched a career-high for Thomas that he’s tied four times. He also moved into fourth place in passing yards in App State history Saturday

“People give him a hard time around here for (last week’s) performance, but I’ll go to battle with Zac Thomas every single day of the week,” Clark said. “He is a winner and we wouldn’t be in the spot we are now without Zac Thomas.”

Thomas said it was his goal to correct some of the mistakes in last week’s 34-23 loss at Coastal Carolina. The defeat ultimately cost the Mountaineers a spot in the Sun Belt Championship. Thomas thought his team showed how it fixed many of those mistakes with its performance tonight.

“Last week was tough. I dealt with a lot of stuff, but at the end of the day, this is the position I signed up for,” Thomas said. “I signed up to be a quarterback here and not all games are going to be ones you want to play.”

After the App State defense forced a quick three-and-out on the first possession of the game, sophomore running back Camerun Peoples opened scoring on a 63-yard touchdown sprint on the Mountaineers’ third play from scrimmage. The 63 yards tied his career long. The second touchdown of his career came on a 63-yard run in the 2018 New Orleans Bowl win against Middle Tennessee State. 

The Mountaineers held the Trojans to a three-and-out and on their second possession of the game and Thomas led the offense downfield for a quick score to go up 14-0 with 7:58 left in the first. The Trussville, Alabama native completed 4-of-4 passes for 69 yards, including a 15-yard TD strike to senior wide receiver Malik Williams on the drive.

Senior wide receiver Malik Williams celebrates with senior center Noah Hannon after Williams’ 15-yard first quarter TD reception. (Andy McLean)

Steven Jones scored on the pick six three plays later and App State went up 21-0 barely halfway through the first quarter. 

“It was a sit route, our offense kind of runs the same thing. I saw the quarterback, the ball, and all I saw was the green grass and the endzone,” Jones said. “That was all I needed to see.”

On the first play of the second quarter, senior wide receiver Thomas Hennigan scored, for the first time since the season opener against Charlotte, on a 22-yard touchdown catch to push App State’s lead to 28-0. Hennigan finished with six catches for 56-yards and a touchdown. 

On the next two drives, both teams connected with field goals. Then, Troy scored its only touchdown of the game on a 33-yard connection from quarterback Gunnar Watson to wide receiver Kaylon Geiger. The touchdown made the score 31-10 in favor of App State with less than five minutes to go in the first half. The Mountaineer defense held the Trojans scoreless for the rest of the game.

With three seconds left in the first half, senior kicker Chandler Staton connected on a 30-yard field goal and the Mountaineers took a comfortable 34-10 lead into halftime. 

In the third quarter, Thomas passed for two more touchdowns: a six yarder to junior tight end Henry Pearson and a two yarder to senior starting defensive end Caleb Spurlin, his second TD catch of the year. Spurlin is the only FBS player in the country to have both multiple sacks and receiving touchdowns this year.

Starting defensive end Caleb Spurlin caught his second receiving touchdown of the year in the win over Troy. He also has 2.5 sacks this season. (Andy McLean)

Neither team scored in the fourth quarter. A missed extra point after Pearson’s TD allowed the final score to be 47-10.

Williams set a career-high in receiving yards in the game, hauling in seven passes for 113 yards and a touchdown. The four-year starter, who’s played in every game since arriving on campus, also eclipsed the 100-yard mark for the first time in his career.

“We’re all dominant, so when everybody is healthy, we’re a dangerous core at receiver,” Williams said.

Peoples led all rushers with 95 yards and a TD on 10 carries. Two true freshman running backs for the Mountaineers rushed for over 50 yards: Nate Noel with 12 for 80 and local Watauga High School product Anderson Castle with five for 58. 

Junior linebacker D’Marco Jackson led the App State defense with four solo tackles and seven total. Eleven Mountaineers recorded three or more total tackles. 

App State’s defense held Troy to 231 total yards: 125 passing and 106 rushing. The Trojans came into the game averaging 302 passing yards per game. Troy was also held to just 3-of-14 third down conversions.

The Mountaineer offense finished with one of its most balanced performances of the season, passing for 279 yards while rushing for 275 (554 total). 

“Every week we are going to be as balanced as we can. Some of it is dictated on the defense we are playing and how they are,” Clark said. “I thought Tony Petersen called a great game. I think he’s called great games all year long, but now he’s getting some of those weapons back on the outside.”

The Mountaineers’ next game is Dec. 4 against the Ragin’ Cajuns of Louisiana-Lafayette. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. at Kidd Brewer and will air on ESPN2. 

“Our goal is to be champions and that has never wavered one bit,” Clark said. “There is a bowl championship out there somewhere.”