BOONE — Appalachian State found out Sept. 7 that good things can come in 3s.
Exhibit ‘A’ was Mountaineers’ running back Darrynton Evans. Exhibit ‘B’ was Shaun Jolly. Both Mountaineers made key plays in Appalachian State’s 56-41 victory over a feisty Charlotte team that refused to back down to a Mountaineers team that was coming off a 42-7 win over FCS playoff team East Tennessee State one week earlier.
Both Mountaineers also wear jersey No. 3.
On a picture-postcard day, Evans stunned the Charlotte defense and delighted the 29,181 Kidd Brewer Stadium crowd by scoring on an 87-yard touchdown run on the first play of the game. Evans said the play was just a basic handoff inside the line, but found a huge running lane to run through.
After breaking past the line of scrimmage, Evans broke to his right and raced untouched to the end zone. He finished with a career-high 234 yards rushing on 19 carries and three touchdowns on the ground.
“It felt good,” Evans said. “Coach Drink always emphasizes to start fast, so we needed that coming out.”
The next big play made by somebody wearing a No. 3 jersey was made by Jolly. The Mountaineers had just converted a Jordan Fehr fumble recovery into a Jalen Virgil 10-yard touchdown catch from Zac Thomas.
The score gave App State a 21-13 lead with 1:14 left in the first half, and the Mountaineers’ defense produced a three-and-out on Charlotte’s next possession. Charlotte went into punt formation on fourth-and-six at its own 26-yard line.
App State’s defensive line got good penetration on Charlotte punter Connor Bowler and his extra protection players went to help block them. Jolly rushed Bowler from the punter’s right side and smothered his punt, giving the Mountaineers their first blocked kick of the season.
App State’s D’Marco Jackson recovered and went into the end zone for the touchdown, giving the Mountaineers a 28-13 halftime lead.
App State head coach Eliah Drinkwitz went along with special teams coach Erik Link’s idea to use that punt rush after seeing on film that it could work.
“That’s all coach Link,” App State head coach Eliah Drinkwitz said. “We had seen it on film and he had asked me to do it earlier and I didn’t feel good about it. Then I felt like we had three timeouts and we had just scored on that fumble. I felt good about that block and so we just wanted to see it. Even if we didn’t get it, we would have had good field position and so we decided to go after it. (Link) dialed it up, we executed it and it worked perfectly.”
Evans put the final touch on the win by returning a Charlotte onside kick deep in the fourth quarter 45 yards for a touchdown. Evans, who has returned three kickoffs for touchdowns while at App State, gave a quick thought to just preserving possession of the ball and just falling on it, but changed his mind in an instant.
“Really, right there, I was talking to Thomas (Hennigan) that if it’s hot, just let it go,” Evans said. “Then it just took a good bounce and it was too hot for me to catch it and fall. As I looked as I caught it, it’s wide open so I might as well keep running.”
“It went from catch it and secure it to try to put more points up to help our defense,” he added.
Jolly made the final big play of the game when his interception of a Chris Reynolds pass in the end zone put an end to Charlotte’s final scoring threat of the game. Charlotte had driven the ball down to the App State 15-yard line, but Jolly stepped in front of the ball to end the threat.
Jolly finished with four tackles and also broke up a pass.