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App State opens Sun Belt with 56-37 win over Coastal Carolina

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BOONE, N.C. — Sandwiched around nearby lightning strikes, Appalachian State put up plenty of offensive fireworks to win its Sun Belt Conference opener.

Zac Thomas had two touchdown passes while throwing for 246 yards and App State’s three primary running backs accounted for a combined five rushing touchdowns in a 56-37 home win against Coastal Carolina on Saturday. The sold-out game at Kidd Brewer Stadium featured a two-hour, three-minute weather delay late in the first quarter.

“It was a unique game today with the delays and having to deal with the lightning,” head coach Eliah Drinkwitz said. “I thought our guys handled the adversity well. We also had the factor of where we spent a lot of energy last week against UNC, so to be able to come back and sustain that energy for as long as we did today made me real proud of our guys.”

Thomas ended up completing 19 of his 23 pass attempts against the league’s top-ranked defense, and walk-on Matthew McQuinn delivered a huge special teams play to help the Mountaineers (4-0, 1-0) turn a tie game late in the first half into a 42-21 lead midway through the third quarter.

The Chanticleers (3-2, 0-1) had cut their deficit to 42-30 late in the third quarter before cornerback Shaun Jolly returned his second career interception 24 yards for a touchdown with 11:59 remaining to help clinch the win, which included the biggest margin of victory in three Sun Belt matchups with Coastal.

Akeem Davis-Gaither had a sack among his team-leaading eight tackles for App State’s defense, which had three first-time starters, and Demetrius Taylor followed up a starring performance against North Carolina with a batted down pass, one stop behind the line of scrimmage and a partially blocked punt.

Daetrich Harrington rushed for one touchdown and a team-high 71 yards on 11 carries, Darrynton Evans scored twice while adding 60 rushing yards and Marcus Williams Jr. had two rushing TDs in a 43-yard outing. In the passing game, tight end Collin Reed scored the 10th touchdown of his career in support of productive receivers Malik Williams (six catches for 75 yards), Thomas Hennigan (five catches for 89 yards) and Corey Sutton (five catches for 76 yards and a touchdown).

“We spent a lot of time in the film room this week, and I thought we did a good job of realizing this was a real good defense,” Thomas said. “We had to make a statement on offense. We put up some pretty good numbers the last few weeks, but I think this game really set us apart as an offense. We were clicking, and even when stuff wasn’t clicking, we were still making plays. This offense is really, really good.”

The back-and-forth game turned in App State’s favor late in the first half.

The Chanticleers used a 14-yard touchdown pass to pull even at 21-all with 3:52 remaining before halftime, and Thomas’ 55-yard pass to Hennigan on the next play from scrimmage set up a scoring opportunity.

Williams Jr. followed his 13-yard run to the 1 by scoring a touchdown with 1:59 left in the half, and App State kicked off from midfield because of a penalty during Chandler Staton’s extra point. McQuinn forced a fumble with a big hit at the 17-yard line, and Coastal Carolina recovered the ball at its own 3 before going three and out on offense.

Hennigan’s punt return to the Chanticleers’ 29 preceded Thomas’ 15-yard touchdown pass to Sutton with 45 seconds left before the break, and the Mountaineers received to begin the second half. They increased their advantage to 21 points on a 22-yard touchdown run from Harrington, who scored for the first time since the 2017 regular-season finale, before he suffered a torn ACL in the spring of 2018.

Coastal Carolina put together a 10-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to eat up the first five minutes of the game, and App State responded immediately with a 65-yard touchdown drive that included Williams’ 35-yard reception on a third-and-7 play.

Evans capped that series with an 8-yard touchdown run, and the Mountaineers quickly regained possession with a three-and-out stop that included a batted down pass from Taylor, a quarterback pressure from Elijah Diarrassouba and Taylor getting his hand on the Coastal punt.

Sutton gained 48 yards to the Coastal 10 on an acrobatic catch of a deep first-down throw from Thomas, and Reed scored on an 11-yard pass.

Thomas completed his first nine pass attempts for 126 yards, and the two-hour delay began with the Mountaineers ahead 14-7. Once play resumed, the Chanticleers quickly responded with a 42-yard touchdown run, but App State regained the lead on Evans’ second touchdown run of the day and his ninth rushing touchdown of the season. His 1-yard score came during a drive in which Thomas found Hennigan for a gain of 13 yards on a fourth-and-5 pass from the Coastal 28.

App State returns to action on Wednesday, Oct. 9, at Louisiana. That game will be shown on ESPN2.

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