Mountaineers fall in heartbreaking, sellout opener, 63-61


Hiatt Ellis

Redshirt senior quarterback Chase Brice winds up for a pass against Carolina Sept. 3, 2022. Brice threw for 361 yards and a career-high six touchdowns in the 63-61 thriller.

Dan Davidson, Former Sports Editor

App State dropped its season opener versus North Carolina Saturday in a 63-61 shootout. Despite a 40-point fourth quarter rally, the Mountaineers came up short in a game that featured 1,231 total yards of offense. 

“I’m very proud of our football team. Our guys never quit,” head coach Shawn Clark said. “Our guys are hurt. We’re disappointed but not discouraged. The future’s bright at App State.”

Fans along the student section frontlines cheer on the Mountaineers Sept. 3, 2022. A Kidd Brewer Stadium record 40,168 fans were in attendance for the game. (Hiatt Ellis)

The highly anticipated in-state matchup lured tens of thousands of football fans to Boone, 40,168 of which packed The Rock. That figure marked a new single-game attendance record for Kidd Brewer Stadium, topping the 35,126 attendees at the 2017, one-point loss to Wake Forest. 

“That’s what college football is about,” Clark said. “Why are we going anywhere west of Kentucky to play? We should be playing our in-state schools every single non-conference game. Our fanbase will sell-out any stadium in North Carolina, so we should be playing those games.”

App State received the opening kickoff after North Carolina won the coin toss and deferred. In their first series of 2022, the Chase Brice-led offense scored on an eight-play, 75-yard drive. Sophomore running back Nate Noel escaped multiple tackles to rush into the end zone from 52 yards out. 

“He plays with such a quick first step, and it was hard for North Carolina to adjust to that,” redshirt junior running back Cam Peoples said. “I don’t feel like they prepared as well for Nate as they did for me, but it worked out for him and I love that for him.”

The Tar Heels wasted no time responding, completing their own 75-yard drive in eight plays. Redshirt freshman quarterback Drake Maye completed passes of 31 yards and 23 yards, the second of which found receiver J.J. Jones in the end zone. 

North Carolina was without star wideout Josh Downs on Saturday, who is widely regarded as one of the top receivers in the country, but Maye was able to spread the wealth to eight different receivers throughout the game. 

Senior tight end Henry Pearson hauls in a 22-yard pass before running into the end zone for a touchdown in the first quarter Sept. 3, 2022. (Hiatt Ellis)

On the Mountaineers’ subsequent possession, Brice nearly threw a pick but followed up the poor throw with a 41-yard dart to redshirt freshman receiver Dalton Stroman, the second reception of his career. One play later, Brice hit senior tight end Henry Pearson alone for a 22-yard score. 

After forcing a quick three-and-out, the Black and Gold continued their early barrage with a 65-yard march to the end zone in 11 plays. Brice faked a toss on the two-yard line before finding redshirt sophomore receiver Christian Wells in the back of the end zone for the touchdown early in the second quarter. App State stretched its lead to 21-7. 

“I think those guys left it on the field for everybody to kind of get their conclusion about our receiving core,” Brice said of his receivers. 

North Carolina countered with three unanswered scores to close the first half.

Maye hit fellow redshirt freshman Kobe Paysour from 14 yards out for his first career touchdown. Paysour caught the ball in front of the student-packed Miller Hill and celebrated with his teammates in the end zone. 

The Tar Heels continued to force the issue on their fourth drive, using their hurry-up offense to gas the Mountaineer defense. Running back George Pettaway and Maye gashed the defense with their legs, and Pettaway found the end zone from 21 yards out, tying the game at 21 apiece. 

App State’s final full drive of the first half was a brief three-and-out, giving North Carolina an opportunity to score with 1:52 and 72 yards to go. The Heels used just 1:43 in a nine-play drive into the end zone, capped off with a 10-yard touchdown pass to Bryson Nesbit.

Maye accounted for nearly 85% of North Carolina’s total offense in the first half, posting 241 yards and three touchdowns on 17/21 passing. 

“Give him credit,” Clark said of Maye. “We helped him out some, but he made a lot of plays today.”

The Mountaineers had a more balanced first half attack than their opponent, rushing for 136 yards and passing for 134. 

North Carolina dominated the third quarter, holding App State scoreless and adding 13 to their already-seven-point lead. 

Sophomore running back Nate Noel stiff arms a Carolina defender Sept. 3, 2022. Noel finished the game with 116 rushing yards and two touchdowns. (Hiatt Ellis)

Maye picked apart the Mountaineer defense in Carolina’s first drive of the second half, using both his arms and legs to pick up first downs. The rookie QB lasered a 36-yard strike to the App State 26-yard line before rushing in a 12-yard score with 11:55 remaining in the third. 

North Carolina’s defense forced a turnover on downs and an interception on App State’s first two drives of the half, and punched in field goals to capitalize on both. Entering the fourth, App State trailed 41-21. 

In the next 15 minutes of game time, chaos ensued. 

Prior to the noon kickoff, DraftKings Sportsbook had the Mountaineers as three-point favorites over the Tar Heels, and the over/under for total points was set at 56.5. That total was exceeded in the fourth quarter alone. 

App State opened the final quarter with a one-yard touchdown rush from Noel, still trailing 28-41 after the extra point. On the first play of the ensuing Carolina possession, redshirt junior linebacker Nick Hampton forced a Maye fumble and senior linebacker Tyler Bird recovered. Three plays later, Brice hit redshirt junior tight end Miller Gibbs on a 13-yard, diving touchdown with 10:37 remaining. 

North Carolina’s 20-point lead was trimmed to six in a minute and a half of game time, and Kidd Brewer Stadium came alive. 

“In different moments … you really get to feel that and you appreciate it,” Brice said of the atmosphere. “Because there are a lot of places not like this, here at App State, that love ball and support you and are there for you, wins and losses.”

Just as the Black and Gold crowd was resurrected, the visitors seized back momentum with a 71-yard sprint from Caleb Hood to the four-yard line. Omarion Hampton punched in the score on the ground and Maye scampered in for the two-point conversion, pushing the Tar Heel lead to 49-35. 

App State struck back two minutes later after a very ref-involved, 77-yard scoring drive. Brice dropped a 32-yard pass into the hands of sophomore receiver Christian Horn, who streaked into the right side of the north end zone for his first career touchdown. 

The Mountaineers trailed 49-42 with 7:20 to go. 

Despite many fans exiting after a rather uninteresting third quarter, Kidd Brewer Stadium reverberated with energy as the sell-out crowd pleaded the home team to get a stop, something both teams struggled to succeed in much of the day. On 3rd-and-13, The Rock reached its peak volume of the day and the Mountaineer defense forced an incomplete pass. 

“That was awesome today. That was the best fans in the world right there in Kidd Brewer Stadium, and it was awesome,” Clark said. “It was electric.”

App State needed just three plays on its 12th drive of the day to find the game-tying score. Peoples broke free for a 38-yard touchdown, tying the game at 49-49 with 4:00 remaining. 

“I knew that we needed a spark,” Peoples said. “I think the O-line had a lot of fire behind them, with Coop and those boys taking charge toward the end of the game, wearing the defense down. I think they did a great job.”

Sophomore linebacker Jalen McLeod drills Carolina quarterback Drake Maye with three minutes left in the fourth quarter Sept. 3, 2022. (Hiatt Ellis)

With a tie game and North Carolina facing a 3rd-and-9 on the App 42, the Mountaineers sent an all-out blitz that Maye gracefully lofted the ball over, finding running back D.J. Jones alone for a 42-yard house call. The Tar Heels took a 56-49 lead with 2:50 left. 

“We have to get off the field on third down,” Clark said. “We can’t get off the field on third down right now, so we’ll get that fixed tomorrow.”

App State found itself in a 4th-and-11 rut with under a minute to go, but a defensive holding call bought the Mountaineers a fresh set of downs. 

With 38 seconds left on the clock, the Mountaineers faced 2nd-and-6 at the Tar Heel 28-yard line, trailing 56-49. From this point, not one, not two, but three touchdowns would be scored. 

Brice hit redshirt sophomore receiver Dashaun Davis for a 28-yard touchdown with 31 seconds left. With the offense rolling and a defense that struggled all day, Clark elected to go for the two-point conversion and potential win — though that would have been far from certain in Saturday’s contest. After Brice misdirected the defense, Davis broke free in the end zone awaiting the go-ahead, miraculous comeback-completing pass. Only, the pass went over the head of Davis, whose feet were caught up underneath him as he backpedaled toward the soaring ball. It fell incomplete and the Mountaineers still trailed 55-56. 

“At Appalachian State, we come here to win a football game. We’re not playing for ties. We’re not playing for overtime,” Clark said. “You can say it’s a bad throw, you can say it’s a bad catch. That’s on the head coach for going for two.”

Half a minute remained and the Mountaineers resorted to an onside kick as their final glimmer of hope. Sophomore kicker Michael Hughes drilled the ball into the turf and it bounced directly into the arms of UNC’s Nesbit, who sprinted 43 yards to the house. Though Carolina now led 63-55, App State would receive one final possession with hope of tying the game.

Redshirt sophomore Milan Tucker collected the short kickoff and returned it 47 yards to the Tar Heel 48-yard line. 19 seconds remained. 

On first down, Brice found redshirt sophomore receiver Kaedin Robinson, who tip-toed the sideline as he snagged a 22-yard completion. 14 seconds remained. 

On the next play, Robinson sprinted to the end zone across the middle of the field. As the clock ticked below 10 seconds, Brice laced a ball straight into the arms of Robinson, who caught his first touchdown as a Mountaineer and brought the Black and Gold within two, 61-63.

“I just want to tell you, this guy’s got guts. He’s a damn winner,” Clark said of Brice. “He fought his tail off today, and I love this kid. He bleeds black and gold.”

Trying to force overtime, App State attempted a final two-point conversion. Brice faked the handoff to Peoples and rolled right, but the North Carolina defense covered his options and he was forced to run. The Tar Heels dragged him down at the one-yard line, and the Mountaineers fell short. One yard and two points short. 

“Losing sucks. We don’t come here to App to lose, and it sucks,” Clark said. “Those guys fought their tails off even when they weren’t playing well. They fought their tails off and gave ourselves a chance to win in the fourth quarter.”

The back-and-forth, punch-for-punch fourth quarter captivated the college football world, which watched in awe as App State and North Carolina put up 62 points in the fourth quarter alone. 


App State finished with 664 yards of total offense, while Carolina totaled 567. Both teams threw for over 350 yards, and the Mountaineers rushed for 288 as well. The 124 combined points marked the highest total in a game for both App State and North Carolina in their respective histories. 

“It was nothing to do about effort. It was execution,” Clark said of the defensive struggles. “We play hard here. You can go ask Mack Brown. It wasn’t about playing hard, it was about execution.”

Brice completed 25 of his 37 passes for 376 yards, six touchdowns and one interception. The Clemson transfer became the first player to throw six touchdowns against North Carolina since fellow former Tiger Deshaun Watson in 2014, who became a two-time Heisman Trophy finalist and first round NFL Draft selection. 

Redshirt sophomore receiver Dashaun Davis catches a 28-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter over North Carolina defensive back Cam’Ron Kelly. (Hiatt Ellis)

Noel rushed for 116 yards and two touchdowns, while Peoples added 65 yards on 13 rushes. Sixth-year senior running back Daetrich Harrington, who has battled injuries throughout his time in Boone, saw his first action of the year late in the third quarter. “Chop” broke off 48 yards in his five attempts. 

“We rushed for 288 yards versus a very highly-recruited defensive line. Highly-recruited linebackers. Highly-recruited safe — the whole team’s highly recruited,” Clark said. “We’re going to be just fine.”

Eleven different receivers finished with at least one reception, while all six passing touchdowns were spread amongst six different receivers. Davis finished with six receptions for 72 yards, and Horn caught three balls for 74 yards. 

Hampton and Bird combined for the lone Tar Heel turnover of the day, and Arkansas transfer Andrew Parker finished with a team-high eight tackles in his Mountaineer debut. 

“You’ve got to go watch the film and correct the mistakes. Figure out where you went wrong and what you can do better,” Parker said. “You’ve got to eliminate it and flush it from your mind and just get ready for the next week.”

App State will have to right its ship quickly on defense before traveling to College Station, Texas, to take on No. 6 Texas A&M. The Mountaineers and Aggies kickoff at 3:30 p.m. Sept. 10 and will be broadcast on ESPN2.