BOONE — It’s not always easy for an offense to go against Appalachian State’s defense — just ask the App State offense.
Appalachian State’s offense had to go against the Mountaineers’ defense during fall practices nearly every day. App State’s defense, which led the Sun Belt Conference in least points and least yardage allowed, helped produce a 42-7 win over visiting East Tennessee State on Aug. 31.
But the offense did its share after getting off to a slow start. But playing against the App State defense the way the team’s offense had to do during practice can sometimes be discouraging. App State receiver Thomas Hennigan recalled a conversation in fall camp he had with Darrynton Evans about App State’s offense’s ability to move the ball on the defense.
“In camp, we’ll have this conversation every other day with each other on the offense and we’re like ‘Are we bad?’” Hennigan said. “We’ll look at each other and Darryn will be like, ‘Yeah, we’re bad.’ Then in week one, like last year at Penn State we’re putting up the points like we did and this year putting up 42 points. When you’re going up against one of the best defenses you’ll see all year every day in practice, naturally you’re going to get better.”
As Hennigan said, Appalachian State’s offense isn’t shy about scoring points. Hennigan did his part against East Tennessee State by catching seven passes for 79 yards, including a 31-yard touchdown in the third quarter.
App State quarterback Zac Thomas managed to unload the ball just as East Tennessee State cornerback Jeremy Lewis leveled him from behind on a blitz. Hennigan went between two defenders to get the ball and split them to get to the end zone.
The play left the Mountaineers in front 28-7. App State added two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to seal the win. It also caught the attention of Darrynton Evans, who saw the play after picking up a blitzing defender.
“It was definitely crazy,” Evans said. “I’m watching from the back and I’m picking up a block and looking through the o-line and I see Zac throw it and I’m thinking, ‘Where is he throwing the ball?’ I see Thomas catch it and I’m like ‘oooh.’ And then I see him use a spin move and I’m like, ‘ooooh.’ Then he scored and I’m like ‘OK yeah.’ It was crazy.”
Hennigan led the Mountaineers in receptions against the Bucs. Keishawn Watson, Evans, Henry Pearson and Jalen Virgil each finished with two receptions, while Christian Wells and Malik Willilams each had one catch. Wells’ grab was a 17-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter, which was the freshman’s first collegiate touchdown.
Hennigan also set up another touchdown on a deep pass from Thomas, but instead of a completion, East Tennessee State was called for a pass interference penalty. The Mountaineers scored on the next play, a touchdown pass to Williams.
“Hennigan had two deep throws to him,” Mountaineers coach Eliah Drinkwitz said. “One of them was a pass interference and one could have been called on it too, so he did have some deep ball opportunities. For us, in our offensive system, it’s about who is the open guy and what is the defense giving us? Sometimes, you’re going to get seven targets and sometimes, somebody else is going to get seven targets.”