Gang tackling

Appalachian State linebacker Noel Cook brings down Charlotte slotback Cameron Dollar in front of App State’s Jordan Fehr (59), Trey Cobb (45), Josh Thomas (7) and Shaun Jolly (3).

BOONE — It’s been a long time since Appalachian State’s football team has played North Carolina.

The date was Sept. 20, 1940. North Carolina rolled to a 56-6 win over the Mountaineers in Chapel Hill in the only time the two programs have met on the football field.

The rematch takes place at 3:30 p.m. Sept. 21 at Kenan Stadium. The Mountaineers are coming off a 56-41 win over visiting Charlotte on Sept. 7, while North Carolina is coming off a loss to Wake Forest in a non-conference game.

App State faces a power five-conference team for the seventh straight season. But, the Mountaineers have not beaten a Power Five conference team since they upset Michigan 34-32 in 2007.

It’s not like App State hasn’t been close. Penn State, ranked seventh at the time, beat App State 45-38 in overtime in 2018. The Mountaineers also lost 20-13 in overtime to Tennessee in 2016.

Appalachian State coach Eliah Drinkwitz sees the game as a chance to face a team from a power conference, but it’s the next game on the schedule for the Mountaineers and is not any more important than App State’s following game, which is Sept. 28 at home against Coastal Carolina.

“This is a great game for us as far as a program and an opportunity to play an ACC opponent at their place, so obviously that’s a lot of fun,” Drinkwitz said. “But at the end of the day, it’s one of 12 opportunities to play a game. For our team, out mindset every day is as important as the next day and every game is as important as the next game.”

Appalachian State is coming off a win over Charlotte that saw running back Darrynton Evans rush for 234 yards and scored two touchdowns in each quarter of the game. The game was played Sept. 7, which gave the Mountaineers a week off and a chance to work on some fundamentals.

Drinkwitz also said that receiver Corey Sutton will play against North Carolina. Sutton was suspended for the Mountaineers’ first two games for unspecified reasons.

Sutton was arrested and charged by Boone Police with possession of marijuana in June.

“He’s ready to roll,” Drinkwitz said.

“We’re excited for the challenge we face this week,” Drinkwitz added. “We’re facing a very strong ACC opponent. They’re 2-1 with great wins over an SEC squad and a Miami squad. They’ve got a lot of really good players on their football team. They have an outstanding football coach who is well respected. They’ve got great schemes on both sides of the football and on special teams.”

Drinkwitz said North Carolina’s defense likes to create havoc. Coached by former Appalachian State head coach Mack Brown, the Tar Heels want to use confusion, but also play with aggression, when playing defense.

“They’re very sound but unconventional,” Drinkwitz said. “They line up in unique fronts and blitz in a lot of varieties. They use a lot of unique coverage structures. They try to get you behind the sticks and force you into third downs. They’re one of the top 25 or 26 in the country in third-down defense.”

Leading the Tar Heels offensively is freshman quarterback Sam Howell, who passed for 519 yards with no interceptions in North Carolina’s two wins. Both victories were fourth-quarter rallies.

“Sam is a tremendous quarterback and someone who I recruited when I was at N.C. State,” Drinkwitz said. “He is a true freshman and he has played well above his age. He’s a really good football player, and he has a really strong arm. He can make plays with his feet when he scrambles. He has a really strong grasp of their offense from what I can tell watching it.”

Drinkwitz said that Howell is showing a confidence level that is making him play well early in the season.

“He has a lot of confidence in his own ability,” Drinkwitz said. “He played pretty well in the first half against Miami. He’s a really good football player and they’ve done a good job surrounding him with good players.”

Drinkwitz said the Tar Heels’ offensive line and running back Michael Carter are some of those good players surrounding Howell.

“He’s surrounded by good players, but he also understands what he’s supposed to do when he has the ball in his hands,” Drinkwitz said of Howell. “He does a really good job with it.”

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