App State takes care of business in workmanlike road win

The Mountaineers got three touchdown passes from Zac Thomas and another solid defensive performance to improve to 3-0 in the Sun Belt Conference with a 38-17 win at Texas State

Appalachian State's Brendan Harrington heads down the sideline on his way to a 49-yard interception return for a touchdown. (App State Athletics photo)

Appalachian State continued to run roughshod through the bottom half of the Sun Belt Conference on Saturday, pounding out a workmanlike 38-17 victory at Texas State.

Quarterback Zac Thomas threw for three touchdowns and running back Daetrich Harrington rushed for 113 yards as the Mountaineers (5-1) continued to tune up for the most difficult part of their schedule with a third straight win to open its conference schedule.

All three of the games have come against teams with losing records. Texas State is now 1-7 (1-4 Sun Belt).

Defensive back Brendan Harrington added a pick-six, while defensive tackle Caleb Spurlin caught a touchdown pass on a trick play to help App improve to 23-4 in Sun Belt road games since joining the conference in 2014.

Three thoughts

1. If the Mountaineers needed a wake-up call, they got one right out of the gate Saturday. It came on the third play of the game when, on a third-and-10 play, Texas State quarterback Tyler Vitt hit receiver Javen Banks for a 75-yard touchdown. App State’s defense — which came into the game ranked No. 1 in the Sun Belt Conference — got its revenge later in the half when, after an offensive touchdown on a pass from Thomas to tight end Miller Gibbs tied the score, Brendan Harrington intercepted a Vitt pass and returned it 49 yards for a touchdown that gave the Mountaineers their first lead.

2. App State squandered a scoring opportunity just before halftime last week at ULM because of some miscommunication and poor clock management. Given a chance to make amends against Texas State, the Mountaineers handled the situation much better. This time, Thomas was able to get out of bounds and stop the clock on second down, saving a timeout for Chandler Staton to kick a 33-yard field goal two plays later and extend App State’s lead to 24-10 at the break.

3. The Mountaineers effectively put the game away in the third quarter with an epic 16-play, 91-yard touchdown drive that ate up almost half of the period and shortened the game considerably. Taking over at its own 9 after an interception by Shemar Jean-Charles, App moved the length of the field on nine runs and seven passes — converting three third downs and a fourth down while also surviving a fumble along the way before Thomas hit Jalen Virgil for a nine-yard touchdown that extended its lead to three touchdowns.

Number to know

97 — With its two interceptions on Saturday, App State improved its total for the season to 12, including three by Harrington. It has now picked off 97 passes since 2015, the most of any FBS team over that stretch.

Player of the game

Daetrich Harrington, App State running back — The junior rushed for 113 yards on 18 carries to lead a balanced, ball-control attack that rolled up 426 total yards (258 on the ground). It was Harrington’s third 100-plus yard game this season and the sixth by a member of the Mountaineers’ backfield. Marcus Williams Jr. and Camerun Peoples have combined for the other three.

They said it

“We have to become excellent. We do a lot of good things, but we make a lot of bonehead mistakes. I like where we are as a program. We’re built for this, and we’ll start this stretch one game at a time when Georgia State comes in next weekend.”

— App State coach Shawn Clark

Critical thinking

The Mountaineers still have a lot to prove as they approach a difficult closing stretch that includes games against Georgia State, Coastal Carolina, Troy, Louisiana and Georgia Southern, but they’ve positioned themselves for a run at a fifth straight Sun Belt title by taking care of business against a third straight lesser opponent.

The key to App State’s success since returning from a three-week COVID-related layoff has been balance — balance between both the run and pass games, and between offense and defense. It was on full display against the Bobcats on Saturday, a sign that the Mountaineers might be starting to hit their peak at just the right time.