Mountaineers run past Charlotte 35-20 to open 2020

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Max Correa

App State defeated Charlotte 35-20 in the opening game of the season at an empty Kidd Brewer Stadium Sept. 12. The Mountaineer offense rushed for over 300 yards and four touchdowns.

Silas Albright, Sports Editor

On a rainy, grey afternoon in an empty Kidd Brewer Stadium, App State rushed for over 300 yards and four touchdowns en route to a 35-20 season-opening victory over Charlotte.

“Great win for our program. Very proud of our guys today…We had the motto today (and) all camp: no excuses,” head coach Shawn Clark said. “It didn’t matter if it was no fans in the stands, four inches of water, three turnovers, it didn’t matter.”

The Mountaineers were led on offense by 279 combined rushing yards and four touchdowns from the running back trio of senior Marcus Williams Jr., junior Daetrich Harrington and sophomore Cam Peoples. Williams and Peoples rushed for a touchdown and over 100 yards apiece while Harrington picked up 60 yards and two touchdowns. 

“We all got a chip on our shoulder,” Harrington said. “They think since Darrynton (Evans is) gone, that we have nobody. We feel disrespected, so we’re gonna come out and show (the) Sun Belt and the whole world that we’re a three-headed monster.”

After suffering a torn ACL in the season opener against ETSU last year, Peoples looked impressive in his return against Charlotte. Williams Jr. was the running back for the first App State drive and Harrington came in on the second drive. Peoples took over on the third drive and led the Mountaineers up the field and scored App State’s first touchdown of the season at the 3:01 mark in the first quarter to tie the game at 7. Peoples rushed six times for 53 yards and the touchdown that drive, kickstarting the Mountaineer offense that had gotten off to somewhat of a slow start. 

Harrington, who dealt with a torn ACL before the 2018 season, described coming back from the injury as “a different type of hungry” and that Peoples put that hunger on display with his strong performance.

Although the running back group was productive, it struggled with ball security. Williams Jr. lost a fumble at the goal line on the opening drive of the game and Peoples lost one in the fourth quarter.

“We tell those guys when you have the football, you have the program in your hands,” Clark said. “And if you can’t hold onto the football, then you’re not going to play. We wanna rotate those guys, and then as it goes, you get a feel for it. We were going to ride whoever had the hot hand.”

Senior wide receiver Thomas Hennigan recorded the second 100-yard receiving game of his App State career, catching all five passes he was targeted on for 120 yards. Hennigan broke loose for a 51-yard touchdown reception to put the Mountaineers up 21-13 with 1:51 to go in the third. He caught the pass from senior quarterback Zac Thomas at the Charlotte 23-yardline as his cornerback fell down. 

“After that, it was just me and the safety, and I couldn’t get tackled by the safety,” Hennigan said with a smile. “My teammates wouldn’t have let me live that down.”

Hennigan explained that after several run plays in a row, offensive coordinator Tony Petersen called a hurry-up vertical route to try to catch the Charlotte secondary off guard, and it worked.

Senior running back Marcus Williams Jr. scores on a 1-yard rush in the second quarter of App State’s 35-20 win over Charlotte Sept. 12 at Kidd Brewer Stadium. (Max Correa)

On the defensive side of the ball, App State was led by junior linebacker Trey Cobb with 8 total tackles, including 1.5 for loss. Senior cornerback and captain Shemar Jean-Charles broke up four passes and made seven total tackles. Sophomore linebacker Brendan Harrington caught a pivotal interception early in the third quarter when the 49ers trailed 14-10 with a chance to take the lead. 

“That’s great to see, especially with this being his first start,” Jean-Charles said. “Having to replace a guy like (Akeem Davis-Gaither), it’s a lot of pressure, and he’s stepping up to the plate.”

Behind Jean-Charles, junior cornerback Shaun Jolly and safeties Kaiden Smith and Ryan Huff, the App State secondary helped hold Charlotte quarterback Chris Reynolds to just 11-for-30 passing, 140 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions. Smith caught his second career interception late in the fourth quarter to ice the game. 

“That’s what they do. I go against that defense every day and I know the troubles that we have with those guys,” Clark said. “When the game’s on the line, hey, let’s go play ball. I have trust in our defensive line, but especially our secondary.”    

Aside from the fumbles, Thomas also threw an interception and the kickoff unit allowed a 97-yard return for a touchdown in the third quarter.