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X marks the spot: Mountaineers strike gold against Pirates

Max Sanborn
Redshirt junior wide receiver Milan Tucker works his way around East Carolina defenders Sept. 17.

For the first time since 1979, App State and East Carolina squared off in Boone in front of 40,168 fans. The mark ties the all-time Kidd Brewer Stadium record with App State’s matchup against North Carolina in 2022. The Mountaineers capped off the historic day with a 43-28 victory.

“I just want to thank all the fans,” head coach Shawn Clark said. “We can’t thank you enough for tying the all-time attendance record here at App State. The students were incredible.”

The student section at Kidd Brewer Stadium cheering on the Mountaineers against ECU Sept. 17. (Max Sanborn)

The teams previous matchup came in Charlotte in 2021 with the Black and Gold defeating ECU 33-19.

The Pirates scored on their opening drive after an offsides penalty on the Mountaineers extended ECU’s drive. Pirate running back Rahjai Harris rushed for a 7-yard touchdown to get East Carolina on the scoreboard. 

Thirty-five seconds later, junior running back Nate Noel broke free from the Pirate defense and scored a 68-yard rushing touchdown on the Black and Gold’s second play of their opening drive. 

“Nate Noel is what an App State football player is about,” Clark said. “He’s tough, he’s dedicated, he makes good grades and you can count on him.”

On ECU’s second play of the following drive, senior safety Nick Ross came down with an interception to flip the field. After driving down the field, the Mountaineers drive ended with a 36-yard field goal from junior kicker Michael Hughes. 

At the end of the first quarter, the Black and Gold led 10-7. Noel finished the quarter with 86 rushing yards on only five rushes. 

“Just watching my O-line open up the holes then when I get out there, the receivers blocking downfield already, it’s really just make one man miss,” Noel said. “I love it.”

After a couple drives ending in punts from both teams, junior quarterback Joey Aguilar threw a pick-six on third down after the Mountaineers were pinned in their own endzone. It marked Aguilar’s second interception on the season and gave the Pirates a 14-10 lead. 

After a App State punt, ECU went 11 plays for 57 yards ending in another rushing touchdown for Harris. The Pirates went up 21-10 with 2:14 left in the first half. 

Redshirt junior Milan Tucker returned the kickoff to App State’s 45-yard line, in addition to an added facemask penalty, it gave the Mountaineers great starting field position. Redshirt freshman running back Kanye Roberts found the end zone after a 18-yard rushing touchdown. After a failed two-point conversion, the Mountaineers trailed 21-16 with 1:15 left in the half.

The Pirates could not convert the remaining time into points, heading into the locker room with a five point lead.

Aguilar had a rough first half, only completing six of 13 passes for 86 yards. The Mountaineer rushing attack accounted for 95 of 197 total offensive yards. Third down continued to be a struggle, converting 2/7 third down opportunities.

Quarterback Joey Aguilar slides to the turf and avoids being tackled by the ECU defense (Landon Williams)

The second half was a complete turnaround for the Mountaineers, starting with a 75-yard drive capped off by redshirt junior wide receiver Kaedin Robinson hauling in a 34-yard touchdown reception from Aguilar to give App State a 22-21 lead. 

“It was easy for real,” Robinson said on the touchdown reception. “He was playing me outside leverage and I took the inside release, knew I could beat him with speed and made a play.”

East Carolina’s first offensive drive of the half was intercepted by redshirt sophomore safety Jordan Favors. The pass was lobbed into the air and was up for grabs, before Favors came down with the ball. 

Two plays later, Roberts fumbled the ball on second down and Pirates defensive back Shavon Revel recovered for a 57-yard scoop and score. The fumble return was the last time the Pirates saw the end zone. 

The App State offense responded with a 1:39 minute drive ending with Tucker breaking multiple tackles on his way into the end zone from a short throw from Aguilar. Tucker’s 35-yard touchdown was the first receiving touchdown in his career. 

The App State defense celebrates after denying a ECU possession. (Landon Williams)

After both teams suffered three-and-outs, the Mountaineer defense capitalized in forcing the Pirates to play one-dimensional and redshirt freshman cornerback Omari Philyaw picked off East Carolina. This marked the third turnover of the game for the Pirates. 

With short field position, the Black and Gold kept the ball on the ground to set the ball up at the goal line. On third and short, Aguilar kept the ball on a read option, and ran for a 1-yard touchdown to extend App State’s lead to 36-28.

With the East Carolina offense playing from behind, they failed to move the ball down field through the air and were forced to punt.

The Mountaineers scored one last time in a long and methodical drive revolved around the run game. Aguilar finished the drive with a 6-yard touchdown reception to redshirt sophomore tight end David Larkins. This was Larkins season debut and first career start after being sidelined by numerous injuries to begin the season. 

“He came out and he had some big time plays,” Clark said of Larkins. “His number was called, he stepped up and he had the grip to play when he was sore, when he was tired, and that’s what it’s about. That’s what makes this program special.”

With less than six minutes left, the Black and Gold cruised to a 43-28 victory to improve to 2-1 on the season. 

After a worrying first half performance, App State outscored East Carolina 27-7 in the second half, with the Pirates only touchdown coming off a Mountaineer turnover. 

“We go against that defense every single day,” Clark said. “We know what they’re capable of, they just play up to the expectation of App State football.”

The Black and Gold nearly won every statistical battle including total yards, turnovers, third down conversions and penalties. Rushing yards were dominated by the Mountaineers with 224 yards compared to the Pirates 79 yards. Noel led App State with 178 rushing yards and one touchdown on 26 carries. 

As the Mountaineers walked off the field victorious, the record setting number of fans rushed the field to celebrate the victory and historic day.

The Mountaineers look to take this momentum and continue to improve their record in their last non-conference regular season game against Wyoming. App State will travel cross country to play the Cowboys Sept. 23 at 7 p.m. on CBS Sports Network. 

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About the Contributors
Ethan Smith
Ethan Smith, Sports Editor
Ethan Smith (he/him) is a senior journalism major, media studies minor. This is his third year writing for The Appalachian.
Chance Chamberlain
Chance Chamberlain, Associate Sports Editor
Chance Chamberlain (he/him) is a senior journalism major, media studies minor. This is his second year writing for The Appalachian.
Landon Williams, Photographer
Landon Williams (he/him) is a Junior majoring in Commercial Photography from Winston Salem, NC. This is his second year with The Appalachian. 
Max Sanborn
Max Sanborn, Photographer
Max Sanborn (he/him) is a sophomore Commercial Photography Major, from Indian trail, NC. This is his first year with The Appalachian.
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    Shane SanbornSep 20, 2023 at 7:18 pm

    Great pictures MAX SANBORN , keep up the great work