CHAPEL HILL – North Carolina went into its home game with Appalachian State as a slight favorite. Just don’t tell Appalachian State head coach Eliah Drinkwitz that the Mountaineers’ 34-31 victory at Kenan Stadium on Sept 21 is an upset.
Appalachian State claimed a 34-24 lead in the fourth quarter and then after North Carolina answered with a touchdown, the Tar Heels tried a 57-yard field goal with five seconds left in the game looking for a tie.
But App State linebacker Akeem Davis-Gaither got a hand on the kick and kept it from approaching the uprights, which sent the App State players on the field in celebration.
“We talked all week that it wasn’t going to be an upset,” Drinkwitz said. “We belonged on that football field and we were going to prove it. We went in with that mentality that we were going to win the game.”
Appalachian State beat a Power Five conference team for the first time since the Mountaineers beat Michigan 34-32 in the first game of the 2007 season. The Mountaineers, as they did at Michigan, got off to a slow start when Michael Carter returned the opening kickoff 75 yards to the App State 21-yard line.
Tar Heels freshman quarterback Sam Howell, who has led comebacks against Miami and South Carolina this season, found Dazz Newsome for a touchdown to give North Carolina a 7-0 lead with just 17 seconds ticked off the clock.
But Appalachian State, which finished he game with 385 total yards, kicked two straight field goals and then stunned the Kenan Stadium crowd when Demetrius Taylor sacked and then forced a Howell fumble. Taylor then scooped the ball and raced 20 yards for a touchdown, giving the Mountaineers a 13-7 lead they would never give back.
Darrynton Evans added a 5-yard touchdown run in the second quarter to cap a 26-yard drive set up by a Taylor interception. The play put the Mountaineers in front 20-7.
North Carolina fought back and eventually pulled to 27-24 on a Howell touchdown pass to Carl Tucker with 4:18 in the third quarter, but Evans scored his third touchdown, a 3-yard run, to put the Mountaineers in front 34-21.
“We knew what we needed to do,” Drinkwitz said. “We knew we had the plays with our run game, but I knew that we could throw the ball vertically down the field on them and we worked on it all week.”
Howell pulled the Tar Heels closer by capping an 80-yard drive with a 2-yard run. Howell completed 27-of-41 passes for 323 yards and three touchdowns, but also was sacked three times and tossed two interceptions.
App State quarterback Zac Thomas led a balanced attack by completing 20-of-29 passes for 224 yards and one interception. He was also sacked twice.
Seven of his completions went to Corey Sutton, who gained 58 yards. Thomas Hennigan caught six passes for 90 yards, including a 35-yarder that helped the Mountaineers answer Carter’s kickoff return.
Evans added 78 rushing yards on 19 carries, while Thomas picked up 57 yards on six carries.