CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Zac Thomas’ perfect game as a passer highlighted a complete performance from Appalachian State, which scored touchdowns on offense, defense and special teams in a 45-9 road victory against Charlotte on Saturday night.
Thomas went 14-for-14 for 295 yards and three touchdowns through the air, marking the first time an App State quarterback finished a game with at least 10 completions and no incompletions. He also had a 5-yard rushing touchdown as the Mountaineers (1-1) amassed 434 total yards in front of a record 19,151 fans at Richardson Stadium.
“We had a great week of practice, and it showed tonight,” App State head coach Scott Satterfield said.
“They took away our running game early on, and we had to go a little bit more with the passing game. Our receivers made some outstanding plays. … The defense kept them out of the end zone, and that’s huge for us.”
Charlotte native Corey Sutton was Thomas’ top target, catching three passes for 155 yards. Sutton had touchdowns of 27 and 90 yards, with his fourth-quarter score now ranking as the longest receiving touchdown in school history. Otis Smith didn’t score on a 95-yard connection with Satterfield, then App State’s quarterback, in 1994.
Thomas Hennigan reached the end zone on a 59-yard punt return, and App State senior Austin Exford recovered a fumble in the end zone to close the scoring.
Exford (six tackles, including 1.5 for loss), Noel Cook (seven tackles with one sack), Akeem Davis-Gaither (team-high eight tackles), Anthony Flory (six tackles) and Desmond Franklin (47-yard interception return) led a defense that recorded three sacks, nine tackles for loss and seven quarterback hurries while keeping the 49ers (1-1) out of the end zone. Charlotte trailed 24-9 at halftime after it kicked second-quarter field goals covering 46, 54 and 48 yards.
“We prepared as hard as we could, just like with any other opponent,” Exford said. “Scoring that late touchdown, it felt real good to cap it off like that.”
A 19-yard run by Jalin Moore to move the chains in a third-and-6 situation on the opening drive started App State on the right foot, and Chandler Staton ended that drive with a 31-yard field goal. The Mountaineers forced a three-and-out as Franklin and freshman linebacker Trey Cobb, on the field for his first career snap, limited Charlotte back Benny LeMay to a 1-yard gain on a third-and-2 carry.
Thomas’ touchdown on a 5-yard keeper late in the first quarter extended Appalachian’s lead, and Thomas followed the 49ers’ first field goal with a pair of drive-opening completions to freshman tight end Henry Pearson for 17 and 14 yards. That series ended with a 27-yard touchdown pass to Sutton, who became the first App State player to need less than four catches to gain 150 receiving yards in a game.
After Charlotte’s Jonathan Cruz converted another long field goal, Malik Williams gained 38 yards on a pass from Thomas to set up a receiving touchdown from another Charlotte-area native in Dominique Heath. He scored a 7-yard touchdown to help the Mountaineers establish a 24-6 lead before Cruz closed the first half with his third field goal.
“Every receiver we have can do what we need to do and they get open,” said Thomas, whose 14 completions involved seven receivers. “There’s never a time when they’re not open, and the O-line has done a phenomenal job. It’s awesome to get up there knowing you’re the quarterback and you have protection so you can stand back there with confidence and deliver the ball.”
The three second-half touchdowns all came on big plays, with Hennigan’s third-quarter punt return, Sutton’s 90-yard reception early in the fourth quarter and Exford’s fumble recovery removing any drama.
Sutton caught one of Thomas’ final passes at the App State 25, turned up the field and sprinted the final 75 yards.
“I just caught it and saw open grass, so I was just trying not to get caught,” Sutton said. “I knew my teammates wouldn’t let it go if I got caught.”
Zac Thomas went 14-of-14 passing for 295 yards and three touchdowns through the air, marking the first time an App State quarterback finished a game with at least 10 completions and no incompletions. Before Saturday, the highest completion percentage by an App State quarterback with at least 10 completions was 95.2 from Logan Hallock, who went 20 of 21 for 230 yards while coming off the bench against Western Carolina in 2012. Hallock replaced an injured Jamal Jackson and completed the first 20 passes of his career before throwing an incompletion.
Corey Sutton had touchdown receptions of 27 and 90 yards as part of a three-catch, 155-yard performance. The fourth-quarter score ranks as the longest receiving touchdown in school history because Otis Smith didn’t score on a 95-yard connection with current App State head coach Scott Satterfield against Western Carolina in 1994.
Before Saturday, an App State player had gained 150 receiving yards in a game 25 times, and Sutton is the first App State player to reach 150 yards with less than four catches. The only 150-plus game with less than five catches came from Brian Quick, who had 172 yards on four receptions against Wofford in 2008.
The 36-point differential was App State’s largest margin of victory on the road since a 59-14 win at ULM midway through the 2015 season.
Both Charlotte-area natives, Sutton and Dominique Heath scored touchdowns for the first time in their App State careers. Heath had a 7-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter.
Thomas Hennigan’s 59-yard punt return for a touchdown was App State’s first score on a punt return since Bobo Beathard went a relatively low 33 yards against Louisiana in 2014. Hennigan had the longest punt return since Dexter Jackson scored from 68 and 86 yards out against Gardner-Webb in 2006.
Austin Exford recovered a fumble in the end zone to account for a fourth-quarter touchdown. It was App State’s first touchdown off a fumble recovery since Devan Stringer returned a fumble 77 yards against Old Dominion in 2015.
Noel Cook made his second career start at outside linebacker (he also started the 2017 Dollar General Bowl) and recorded his first career sack. He also had a career-high 2.0 tackles for loss.
Brody Barrett and Ryan Huff combined on sack, marking the first time either had a hand in a sack, and starting inside linebacker Jordan Fehr was part of a sack for the first time.
Desmond Franklin, who had three interceptions last season, picked off a pass and had a 47-yard return.