CHAPEL HILL — Appalachian State once again showed they belong on a national stage as they held off a late North Carolina rally to come away with a 34-31 victory on Saturday afternoon at Kenan Stadium.
It wasn’t as historic as the Mountaineers famed 34-32 upset win over Michigan at the Big House on Sept. 1, 2007, but noteworthy nonetheless as Appalachian took down another Division I, Power Five program. It was the first DI, Power Five victory since the one over the Wolverines.
Appalachian State head football coach Eli Drinkwitz said Saturday’s game was a measuring stick of not only where the program is now, but where it is headed.
“When we took this job, the big thing was do something that hadn’t been done before. Like that’s how you keep moving forward as a program ... My job, in my job description, was to elevate the program. And so to try to beat a Power Five team is the way to elevate the program — and we did that today,” Drinkwitz said.
The opportunistic Mountaineers capitalized on a pair of turnovers that led to scores in the first half, made critical stops on defense and big plays on offense when the Tar Heels were threatening to seize the momentum.
It was a smoldering, hotter than average early fall day which started with such promise for North Carolina after Michael Carter broke free on a 75 yard run on the opening kickoff that set the Tar Heels up with a first and goal on the doorstep of the red zone.
On the following play from scrimmage, freshman quarterback Sam Howell hit Dazz Newsome on a 21 yard slant route for a touchdown and following the point after touchdown, Carolina was up 7-0 just 13 seconds into the game.
But a theme would emerge on Appalachian States ensuing possession. Every time North Carolina would make a play, the Mountaineers would answer.
Appalachian junior kicker Chandler Staton hit a pair of field goals on subsequent possessions to cut the lead to 7-6 with 4:40 to go in the first quarter. Later, Mountaineers defensive end Demetrius Taylor stripped the ball away from Howell, scooped up the pigskin and raced 20 yards for a touchdown to take the 13-7 lead.
Appalachian continued to capitalize on Tar Heel miscues and Carolina couldn’t seem to move the ball with any consistency against the tough Mountaineers defense as they increased the lead to 27-17 by the half.
Howell, who entered the fourth quarter trailing for the fourth-straight time in the 2019 season, pulled UNC to within a field goal after scoring on a 2-yard touchdown run with 3:01 to go in the game.
After a defensive stop, Carolina got the ball back on their own 20 yard line with 30 seconds to go in regulation, but the Tar Heels subsequent drive stalled at the 46 yard line and Ruggles’ potential game tying field goal was null as time expired to preserve the win for Appalachian.
Howell threw three touchdown passes for the Tar Heels (2-2) and finished 27 of 41 for 323 yards. He also had three turnovers, the first two led to 14 points for Appalachian State.
Darrynton Evans rushed for three touchdowns and Zac Thomas added 224 yards passing and another 57 rushing to help keep the 3-0 Mountaineers out front.
Things won’t get any easier next week for the Tar Heels when No. 1 Clemson comes to town. Meanwhile, the Mountaineers will be back in Boone with a home game versus Coastal Carolina. Both games are set for a 3:30 p.m. kick.
Appalachian State 13 14 7 0 34
North Carolina 7 10 7 7 31