There was no doubt that No. 24-ranked Appalachian State had a couple of extra helpings of motivation heading into Saturday afternoon’s homecoming football game at Kidd Brewer Stadium and the Mountaineers turned that incentive into their convincing 52-7 Sun Belt Conference rout of Louisiana-Monroe.
Remembering last season’s 34-14 loss to Georgia Southern four days following its first appearance in the Associated Press Football Bowl Subdivision national poll and a shocking 52-45 loss at ULM when the two teams last met in 2017, Appalachian (6-0 overall, 3-0 in conference) made sure there was no letdown in this one.
“We are motivated to write our own history,” said first-year App State coach Eliah Drinkwitz. “There were signs up all over the place with that 52-25 score. We were well aware of all of that. We knew that no other Sun Belt team had ever been ranked two weeks in a row. We use anything we can to motivate our team.”
Darrynton Evans shredded the Warhawks defense for 132 yards rushing and one touchdown on 13 carries in the first half as the Mountaineers took a 31-7 lead to the locker room and added another score from 15 yards out to begin the third quarter. He finished with 136 yards on the ground and three receptions for 41 yards before turning over his responsibilities to other members of the deep running back corps.
As has become his signature during his burgeoning college career, the junior tailback stole back the momentum of the game almost immediately after ULM (3-4, 2-1) constructed a 7-0 lead on its 12-play, 82-yard opening drive. Evans electrified the sellout crowd of 27,117 fans by scampering 59 yards for his first touchdown the first time he touched the ball.
“Things just roll that way,” Evans said of his knack for big moments.
After that, the Appalachian defense played almost lights out, shutting out the dangerous Warhawks attack and holding ULM to 2-of-13 on third-down conversions. The Mountaineers forced three turnovers and limited ULM to 213 yards of total offense and nine first downs.
After being burned for 65 yards rushing by Warhawk tailback Josh Johnson in the first period, App State held this bruising runner to only 12 yards the rest of the contest.
On offense, ASU piled up 572 yards — 302 yards on the ground — and converted 13 of 18 third-down opportunities.
“This is the first game where all three phases clicked,” said App State quarterback Zac Thomas, who completed 18-of-30 passes for 214 yards and three touchdowns with just one interception and ran six times for 58 yards. When this squad puts together offense, defense and special teams in such a fashion, Thomas added that the Mountaineers can be “scary good.”
The key to the game was Appalachian’s focus to details, FS Josh Thomas explained.
“Even though we are ranked, we can still be beat if we don’t do our job,” said Thomas, who contributed an important fumble recovery and 37-yard return on a Johnson miscue to forge one defensive stop. “I feel like we are finally clicking in the (new defensive) scheme.”
That play epitomized the effort of the Appalachian defense. Hustling sophomore nose tackle George Blackstock raced 12 yards upfield from the line of scrimmage to strip Johnson of the ball as linebacker Jordan Fehr was tackling the hard-nosed, Warhawk ball-carrier.
It was the first forced fumble of Blackstock’s career. He had blocked a key field goal attempt during last week’s nationally-televised, 17-7 victory at Louisiana-Lafayette.
“This was an opportunity for us and Louisiana-Monroe to make a statement,” Drinkwitz said, “and we made a statement.”
The Mountaineers will try to add another chapter to the success that has grown to 12 consecutive wins (third-best behind Clemson’s 22 and Ohio State’s 13 among FBS schools) next Saturday on the road at South Alabama (1-6, 0-3) at noon. The struggling Jaguars lost 37-13 to Troy in their latest Sun Belt encounter.
“Our goal is to do it better than it has ever been done before,” Thomas said. “The key is staying in the moment. If we win every day in practice, we expect to win on Saturday.”
That uneasy feeling around the rest of the conference is that the Mountaineers can still get better, even after its near-masterpiece against ULM.
“We’ve still got things to fix,” junior center Noah Hannon said.
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.
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