Mountaineers prepare for East Carolina showdown in Queen City


Andy McLean

Running back Daetrich Harrington trots into the end zone en route to a 52-21 drubbing of Campbell. The senior enters the 2021 season as a member of one of the deepest running back cores in the country, which also features junior Camerun Peoples, sophomore Nate Noel and graduate transfer Jahmir Smith.

The App State football season kicks off Thursday with its first game in nine years against the East Carolina Pirates. While the Mountaineers lead the all-time series 19-12, the Pirates have won the last six meetings. 

This will be their first matchup since App State’s move to the FBS, where the Mountaineers previously lost 35-13 in 2012. App State offensive line coach Nic Cardwell feels it crucial to open up with a win and end their six-game losing streak.

“I think it is very important,” Cardwell said. “I think every game is important, not just ECU, but every last one of them. We treat them all pretty much the same, but it’ll be big.”

The 2018 National Champion Chase Brice makes his Mountaineer debut as quarterback Thursday. The fifth-year senior transferred to App State after spending the 2018 and 2019 seasons backing up Trevor Lawrence at Clemson as well as last season with Duke. Brice said he already feels a great bond with the team.

“Those guys in the locker room make me laugh,” Brice said. “They are hilarious, happy-go-lucky and they love ball, too. We connect on that level, and we connect outside of football on top of that, whether it is music, free time or golf. I have a lot of similarities with these guys.” 

ECU’s offense will pose a challenge for the Mountaineers. The Pirates’ starting quarterback, junior Holton Ahlers, broke records for passing yards and touchdowns in a single game during his last full season in 2019. ECU’s sophomore wide receiver C.J. Johnson will be hard to keep up with for the App State defense. In his two seasons with the Pirates, Johnson has 1,313 receiving yards. However, Brice is confident the Mountaineers will win Thursday if every position plays to its potential. 

“As far as quarterbacks go, just letting it rip, running backs make plays, receivers doing what they do and the tight ends, they are a huge part of our offense,” Brice said. “It has been good getting in the flow of things as far as timing and getting used to this new offense.”

This is both teams’ first time having fans back in stadiums at 100% capacity since the start of the pandemic. 

“Last year was tough on everybody around the country, but to be in front of App Nation, in front of our students, alumni and fans, it’s going to be incredible for the guys,” Cardwell said. 

The Mountaineers come off a strong year after winning the Myrtle Beach bowl and look to achieve more success this year, starting with week one. “The most important game is the next one,” Brice said. “So our focus is ECU and to go 1-0 each week, and you cannot go 1-0 without winning the first one.”  

App State plays in the season opener Sept. 2 at Bank of America Stadium and will be broadcast on ESPNU at 7:30 p.m. ET.