BOONE, N.C. — When Shawn Clark was inhabiting the trenches at Appalachian State in the 1990s as an All-American offensive lineman, he learned the lesson of closing out a game with the power rushing attack.
As Clark manned the sidelines at Kidd Brewer Stadium Saturday for the first time as the Mountaineers’ head coach, he drew from his football DNA to direct App State to its 35-20 victory over Charlotte in the 2020 season opener for both teams.
With Appalachian clinging to a slim, 21-20 lead late in the third quarter, following Aaron McAlister’s 97-yard, kickoff-return touchdown, the Mountaineers closed out the victory with dominating offensive line play and their three-headed tailback rotation.
Daetrich Harrington (15 carries, 60 yards) sprinted for two fourth-period touchdowns on runs of four and 15 yards on a rainy afternoon where the Mountaineers piled up 308 yards on the ground.
“We’ve all been through a lot,” Harrington said of the rushing tandem. “Even going back to my freshman year, we’ve all been through a lot, not playing as much as you’d like, getting injured, those seasons not finishing the way you’d want it to finish. We all have that chip on or shoulder.”
Marcus Williams led the way with 14 attempts for 117 yards and Camerun Peoples added 102 yards on 13 rushes. Both of them contributed touchdowns, but they also coughed up fumbles as Appalachian struggled with three turnovers and seven costly penalties for 45 yards.
Williams had his miscue on the one-yard-line to kill Appalachian’s first impressive drive and Peoples turned it over at the ASU 20 to give Charlotte a chance to tie the game midway through the fourth stanza.
But the App State defense stopped the 49ers without a first down to turn the ball over on downs and the offense took control from there with its final scoring drive.
It was one of the most unusual games in Appalachian history. Played under tight, Covid-19 health restrictions, there were no fans in the stands, no marching bands, zero cheerleaders and little noise outside of the two sidelines and artificial fan noise from the public address system as the heavy downpour soaked the new App State turf.
A limited amount of support staff, media, Mountaineer parents and other miscellaneous folks watched the game live. Most fans watched what would have been a sellout under normal circumstances on ESPN2.
“We had the motto today and all camp of no excuses,” said Clark, after picking up his first regular-season win as a head coach. “It didn’t matter if there were no fans in the stands, four inches of water, three turnovers. I can’t say enough about our players and this program.”
Outside of some scattered big plays by the Charlotte offense, Appalachian’s defense turned in the stellar performance that the team has grown to expect. limiting the dangerous 49er attack to 146 yards rushing and harassing gutsy quarterback Chris Reynolds to 11-of-30 passing for only 140 yards and two interceptions.
Cornerback Shemar Jean-Charles was spectacular with seven tackles and four pass breakups, while strong safety Kaiden Smith and linebacker Brenden Harrington contributed key interceptions. Harrington returned his pick 46 yards.
While there were some typical first-game mistakes, the Mountaineers kept the moment um they finished with at last season’s New Orleans Bowl when Clark directed the team to a win in his first game as the head coach.
Appalachian will attempt to build on that next Saturday when it renews it classic, Southern Conference rivalry with Marshall in Huntington, W.V. at 1:30 p.m. The two former Football Championship Subdivision teams will be showcased on CBS College Sports.
David Coulson is an executive editor for the College Sports Journal, and has covered college football for over 40 years. Present in the press box during the legendary Appalachian State upset of Michigan, his extensive coverage of Appalachian State allowed him to write about the Mountaineers’ first-ever Division I title in the book
Magic on the Mountain: Appalachian State’s Amazing Journey to the 2005 NCAA I-AA Football Championship.
Reach him at: