CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP)Darrynton Evans and these Appalachian State Mountaineers earned their very own Michigan moment – complete with a game-ending blocked field goal.
Another thrilling victory over a behemoth of a program? Sure. But these Mountaineers don’t count it as much of an upset.
Evans rushed for three touchdowns, and Akeem Davis-Gaither blocked a 56-yard field goal attempt on the final play of their 34-31 victory over North Carolina on Saturday in the programs’ first meeting in nearly 80 years.
”This wasn’t an underdog story,” first-year coach Eliah Drinkwitz said. ”You’re not playing a logo. You’re playing a team.”
Demetrius Taylor returned a fumble 20 yards for a key score, and Zac Thomas added 224 yards passing and another 57 on the ground to help the Mountaineers (3-0) beat a power-conference opponent for the first time since that unforgettable upset of No. 5 Michigan 12 years ago.
That one ended on a blocked field goal – and so did this one, with Davis-Gaither getting his right hand on Noah Ruggles’ final kick to keep this one from going to overtime.
”You just look back and see if it made the distance or not,” Davis-Gaither said. ”Then, the celebration was on.”
Evans scored on runs of 5, 2 and 3 yards while Chandler Staton kicked early field goals of 31 and 43 yards for Appalachian State, off to its best start since the 2010 team won its first eight games. The Mountaineers were only 2 1/2-point underdogs in this one.
”It wasn’t going to be an upset,” Drinkwitz said. ”We belonged on that football field today and we wanted to prove it.”
Sam Howell threw three touchdown passes for the Tar Heels (2-2) – who trailed entering the fourth quarter for the fourth straight game.
Howell’s 2-yard touchdown run with 3:01 left pulled them within three points. North Carolina then took over at its 20 with 30 seconds left after forcing a punt, and Howell hit Dazz Newsome twice to set up Ruggles’ long field goal.
Howell finished 27 of 41 for 323 yards with touchdowns of 21 yards to Newsome on the first play from scrimmage, 11 yards to Michael Carter and 12 yards to Carl Tucker. The freshman also had three turnovers – his first two interceptions and a fumble – that led to 14 points for App State.
Appalachian State: The Mountaineers made their name in Ann Arbor, but they had lost their last 11 against the big-name schools on the schedule – falling tantalizingly short in each of the last three years. They lost in overtime at Tennessee in 2016, fell by one point at home against Wake Forest in ’17 and were beaten in OT at No. 10 Penn State last year. ”We, as an offense, kept our foot on the gas” this year, Evans said.
North Carolina: This didn’t look like the team that beat South Carolina and Miami to open the season – in large part because of the growing list of injuries. The Tar Heels, already playing without starting center Nick Polino, were without starting left tackle Charlie Heck (upper-body injury) and starting receiver Antoine Green (lower-body injury). They had a late comeback attempt fall short for the second straight week.
”We’re continuing to try to find our identity, and our identity so far is, we start slow, we dig ourselves in a huge hole and we come back and fight,” coach Mack Brown said. ”The first two weeks, we made the plays to win at the end of a game, and the last two weeks, we’ve run out of time and didn’t have a chance to do the things we need to do.”
BIG MAN ON CAMPUS
Taylor’s fingerprints were all over this game. First, he popped the ball loose when he sacked Howell on a third-and-7 – then scooped it up and rumbled into the end zone to put the Mountaineers up 13-7. His interception two possessions later set up Evans’ first scoring run, from 5 yards out, and made it 20-7. Taylor forced another fumble from Howell midway through the third quarter but the Tar Heels pounced on that one.
Appalachian State welcomed back top WR Corey Sutton. He had seven catches for 58 yards after missing the first two games for violating team rules.
North Carolina has lost nine straight games against instate Bowl Subdivision teams dating to a victory over N.C. State in 2015. Drinkwitz – who spent the previous three seasons as the Wolfpack’s offensive coordinator – had a hand in four of those defeats.
The Tar Heels’ first four games have each been decided by six or fewer points – the first time that’s happened since 1978 and just the second time it’s happened in program history.
Appalachian State: Returns home to face Coastal Carolina on Saturday.
North Carolina: Plays host to top-ranked Clemson on Saturday.
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