App State uses running game, fourth-quarter defense to hold off Charlotte

The Mountaineers rushed for more than 300 yards to give coach Shawn Clark his first regular-season win

Appalachian State rushed for more than 300 yards in a 35-20 win over Charlotte on Saturday in Boone. (Photo courtesy of Appalachian State).

Appalachian State rushed for more than 300 yards and took over in the fourth quarter, getting key defensive stops and two rushing touchdowns by Daetrich Harrington to pull away for a 35-20 win over in-state foe Charlotte on Saturday in Boone.

Three thoughts

1. The game did not mirror last season’s shootout when the teams combined for nearly a hundred points in a 56-41 App State win. The combination of wet conditions and some first-game rust had both offenses settling on the running game, with a total of 80 running plays compared to 51 passing plays total for the two teams.

Still, App State (1-0) managed to pile up 512 yards and got key defensive stops — particularly in the fourth quarter — to give coach Shawn Clark his first regular-season win.

Outside of last season’s loss to Clemson, Saturday was arguably the toughest statistical game of 49ers quarterback Chris Reynolds’ career. He was was just 11 of 30 throwing for 140 yards and two interceptions.

2. Both App State and Charlotte (0-1) are replacing all-conference running backs this season in Darrynton Evans and Benny LeMay, respectively. App State got contributions from all three of its running backs despite some mistakes (more on that below).

Marcus Williams Jr. (14 carries for 117 yards and a touchdown) and Camerun Peoples (13 carries for 102 yards and a touchdown) each broke 100 yards, and Harrington had two fourth-quarter touchdowns to go with his 60 rushing yards. Quarterback Zac Thomas added 32 yards on the ground.

The 49ers, meanwhile, leaned on Northern Illinois transfer Tre Harbison III (17 carries for 87 yards) in the wet conditions, and the senior — who rushed for 1,000 yards each of the last two seasons with the Huskies — seemed up to the task of being Charlotte’s No. 1 running back.

3. Special teams were the key to keeping Charlotte in the game. Not only did kicker Jonathan Cruz go 2-for-2 on field goals for Charlotte — including a 49-yarder early in the third quarter — but the 49ers’ Damon Weldon blocked a Chandler Staton field-goal attempt at the end of the first half to keep the game at 14-10 App State at the break.

Just when it looked like the game might be getting away from the 49ers after a slip in the defensive backfield led to a 51-yard touchdown reception for Mountaineers receiver Thomas Hennigan, Aaron McAllister returned the ensuing kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown — the longest in school history. That cut App State’s lead from eight points to a 21-20 game that carried into the fourth quarter.

And perhaps the most bizarre play of all came after Harrington’s first touchdown run when App State kicker Ryker Casey slipped on the ensuing kickoff and squibbed the ball to the 49ers, who scrambled and covered the ball at their own 45.

Full marks to new special teams coach Charles Bankins in his first game with the 49ers.

Number to Know

12 — Runs of 10 or more yards for the Mountaineers, who carried the ball 50 times for 308 and a 6.2 yards-per-carry average.

They Said It

“So he’s won 252 and I’ve won 20. I mean, it’s pretty good matchup of head coaches — very similar experiences.”

— Charlotte coach Will Healy on facing UNC and coach Mack Brown next Saturday in Chapel Hill

Player of the Game

Thomas Hennigan, App State wide receiver — While it was the Mountaineers’ running game that carried the load, Hennigan was a threat and distraction all game. Hennigan finished with five catches for 120 yards and a touchdown, but he also drew two pass interference calls and his downfield run-blocking was a big part of App State turning the holes its offensive line created into long gains.

Critical thinking

App State rushed for 308 yards and three touchdowns, but the Mountaineers had crucial fumbles by two of its running backs. On the Mountaineers’ open drive, Williams Jr. got the call from the Charlotte 1 but had the ball knocked loose by the 49ers’ Ben DeLuca and it was recovered by Tyler Murray.

Then in the fourth quarter, Peoples fumbled on the first play of a drive with under seven minutes left in the game to give Charlotte the ball at the App State 20. Luckily for Peoples, the Mountaineers defense stopped the 49ers to maintain the lead.