BOONE — A year after losing its first game as an AP Poll Top 25 team, the Appalachian State football team left no doubt this time as the Mountaineers scored 52 unanswered points en route to a 52-7 victory over Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday, Oct. 19.
“I think we’ve got a solid football team with some very special talent on there and I hope our fans are really enjoying watching these guys play,” ASU head coach Eli Drinkwitz said. “It was said in the media that it was an opportunity for ULM to make a statement and we decided we wanted to make a statement.”
The win is the 12th straight for the consensus #24 Mountaineers (6-0, 3-0), who by Oct. 25 will have gone a full calendar year without a defeat. It also avenges a 2017 defeat to the Warhawks (3-4, 2-1) in which ULM won a wild 52-45 game in Monroe.
It also is the first game a Sun Belt team has ever won while being ranked. ASU lost in 2018 and Troy lost in 2016 after each being ranked for only one week.
“We posted signs all over our building and on everybody’s locker that we got beat 52-45 in (ULM quarterback) Caleb Evans’ first start, we’re well aware of what happened that year, we’re well aware that no Sun Belt team has ever been ranked for two straight weeks,” Drinkwitz said. “We were motivated to write our own history and always compete better than it's been done before.”
“You saw what happened last year when we first got ranked, we got embarrassed at Georgia Southern,” said Zac Thomas. “I think it shows a lot about our team that we put stuff behind us.”
The win also makes ASU bowl eligible for the fifth straight season.
“We’re bowl eligible, but our first goal is to win the Sun Belt Conference Championship,” Drinkwitz said.
After giving up an opening drive touchdown, the Mountaineers showed their flare on offense, racking up 572 yards, 376 of those in the first half.
Junior quarterback Zac Thomas went 18 of 30 for 214 yards, three touchdowns and one interception, plus six carries for 59 yards and a rushing touchdown. Zac Thomas was joined in the offensive effort by junior running back Darrynton Evans, who rushed for 138 yards on 17 carries and a touchdown, plus three catches for 41 yards and a touchdown, most of which came in the first half.
Junior running back Marcus Williams Jr. also contributed a touchdown, as well as 81 yards on 16 carries. Receiving, junior wide receiver Corey Sutton had five catches for 75 yards.
Defensively, senior outside linebacker Noel Cook had eight tackles and senior defensive back Desmond Franklin got six tackles, four of them solo.
The story of the game was third-down conversions, as the Mountaineers went 13 of 18 while ULM went only 2 of 13.
“Third down is playmaker down, so our players had to go out and make plays, which is what they did,” Drinkwitz said.
Rain arrived just prior to the team entrances, but it didn’t slow down the offense. The Warhawks won the coin toss, then chipped their way down field, with senior quarterback Caleb Evans finding Warhawks receivers in the flats across the middle. Evans even moved the chains on one occasion with a long shovel pass to a receiver. The 12-play, 82-yard drive ended with a one-yard touchdown run by Kayin White.
“We were getting bled down the field in the run game,” Drinkwitz said of the first ULM drive. “We were out of positions and those guys just settled down and got used to the game speed.”
The ASU offense showed its proficiency as Evans ran untouched 59 yards to tie the game 7-7 on the third play of the game, going through a giant hole opened up by the offensive line.
After forcing a three and out where Evans’ scramble ended one yard short, App State drove the ball down the field, with Evans and Williams finding big holes in the Warhawks’ defense.
“We left a lot of running yards out there, but the good thing is that we got great backs like Darrynton (Evans) that if you just give them a little hole, they’ll be able to run through it,” said junior center Noah Hannon.
The drive ended with Zac Thomas finding junior wide receiver Thomas Hennigan for a six-yard touchdown pass and catch to make it 14-7 ASU.
ULM got another drive going, but a big gain turned into calamity as senior inside linebacker Jordan Fehr held the Warhawks ball carrier while sophomore defensive lineman George Blackstock converged to the fumble at the ASU 45. The loose ball was picked up and returned 37 yards by senior safety Josh Thomas.
“It’s something we’ve focused on since camp, and that’s getting takeaways,” Josh Thomas said. “It’s something we work on every day.”
The App defense stepped up late in the first quarter, with Shaun Jolly forcing a pass breakup on third down, forcing a Warhawks’ punt.
After being pinned deep by the punt, App State was able to flip the field, noticeable on a 54-yard catch and run by Sutton. The drive ended with a 27-yard field goal by junior kicker Chandler Staton.
Down 24-7, further calamity befell the Warhawks as Jolly intercepted a Caleb Evans pass at midfield, but freshman running back Raykwon Anderson fumbled the ball back to ULM on the next play. The Mountaineers’ defense came up with a three and out, but with 4:40 until half, the Warhawks forced a Mountaineer punt after the drive stalled just past midfield.
Aided by a tackle for loss for sophomore inside linebacker D’Marco Jackson, the App defense forced another punt and the Mountaineers’ offense got to work. Zac Thomas juked his way for 32 yards down to the five-yard line, then found senior tight end Collin Reed in the back of the end zone for a one-yard touchdown catch, making it 31-7 with 1:19 before half.
At the half, App State held the yardage edge 376-169, including going seven of nine on third down. Darrynton Evans had 132 yards on 13 carries.
With the ball after half, App State methodically drove down the field over 5:54, going 12 plays over 75 yards, ending with a 15-yard screen pass from Zac Thomas to Darrynton Evans to make it 38-7.
A sack by senior defensive lineman E.J. Scott helped end the following Warhawks’ drive, but Zac Thomas’s deep pass to Sutton was intercepted on the next drive. The favor was returned as ULM quarterback Colby Suits was intercepted by Jordan Fehr.
As the fourth quarter started, App State added on to the margin with Williams Jr. finishing the eight-play drive with a one-yard run to make it 45-7 with 12:21 left.
Junior quarterback Jacob Huesman came in relief for Zac Thomas in the fourth quarter, then found junior wide receiver Jalen Virgil for a 56-yard touchdown to make it a 52-7 score with seven minutes left.
Next up for ASU is a trip to South Alabama on Saturday, Oct. 26. The game kicks off from Mobile, Ala., at 12 p.m. on ESPNU.
“Just 1-0 every week, I feel like if we do that, stay focused on that, those two numbers, the sky’s the limit for us,” Josh Thomas said.
Appalachian State 52, ULM 7
Appalachian State 21 10 7 14 — 52
ULM 7 0 0 0 — 7
ULM— White 1 run (Porter kick)
App— Evans 59 run (Staton kick)
App— Hennigan 6 pass from Thomas (Staton kick)
App— Thomas 1 run (Staton kick)
App— Staton 27 field goal
App— Reed 1 pass from Thomas (Staton kick)
App— Evans 15 pass from Thomas (Staton kick)
App— Williams 1 run (Staton kick)
App— Virgil 56 pass from Huesman (Staton kick)
App State ULM
First downs 27 9
By rushing 14 4
By passing 12 4
By penalty 1 1
Rushes-yards 52-302 29-111
Avg. per rush 5.8 3.8
Passing yards 270 102
Passes 19-32-1 11-27-2
Avg. per att. 8.4 3.8
Avg. per comp 14.2 9.3
Total plays-yards 84-572 56-213
Avg. per play 6.8 3.8
Fumbles-lost 3-1 1-1
Penalties-yards 5-34 9-66
Punts-avg. 4-48.2 10-43.8
Time of poss. 35:12 24:48
Third-down conv. 13-18 2-13
Fourth-down conv. 0-0 0-0
Rushing: App State— Evans 17-138, Williams 16-81, Thomas 6-59, Clark 5-15, Montgomery 3-9, Anderson 3-6, Huesman 1-1, Williams 1-0; ULM— Johnson 13-79, Evans 5-22, Holmes 5-5, Suits 3-7, Vaughn 2-4, White 1-1
Passing: App State—Thomas 18-30-3 214, Huesman 1-2-0 56; ULM—Evans 9-19-0 75, Suits 2-8-0 27
Receiving: App State— Sutton 5-75, Evans 3-41, Williams 3-35, Pearson 2-30, Watson 1-14, Hennigan 2-11, Williams 1-7,Reed 1-1; ULM— Jackson 2-33, McCray 2-29, White 1-15, Lamm 1-11, Carter 1-6, Pederson 2-6, Jackson 2-2