BOONE, N.C. — In a matchup of division leaders, No. 24 Appalachian State rolled to its first win as a ranked FBS team.
The league-leading and now bowl-eligible Mountaineers are the lone Sun Belt team without a conference loss following their 52-7 home victory against ULM on homecoming Saturday.
After the Warhawks posted a touchdown on the game’s opening possession, App State (6-0, 3-0) scored the next 52 points, including 31 straight to take a 24-point lead into the break of their 250th win in Kidd Brewer Stadium.
“We were well aware that no Sun Belt football team has ever been ranked for two straight weeks in the history of the conference,” first-year App State head coach Eliah Drinkwitz said, “so we were motivated to write our own history and to always compete to do it better than it’s been done before.”
Zac Thomas threw for 214 yards, rushed for 58 and had a hand in four touchdowns, including three through the air. Darrynton Evans scored once while rushing for 136 yards on 17 carries, and he added a touchdown catch as part of his 41 receiving yards for App State, which is responsible for two of the three Sun Belt teams to ever crack the Top 25.
With a strong effort from the offensive line, the Mountaineers put up 572 total yards, including 302 on the ground.
Defensively, they limited standout quarterback Caleb Evans to 75 passing yards and held high-scoring ULM (3-4 2-1) to 213 total yards, including only 121 yards after its game-opening touchdown drive. After throwing for 61 yards on the opening drive, Evans completed five of his final 13 attempts for 14 yards before he was replaced in the third quarter by Colby Suits, who went 2-for-8 for 27 yards.
Josh Thomas had a big fumble return to set up a score, Shaun Jolly intercepted a pass for the third time this season and Jordan Fehr added his first interception of the season.
“I felt like they were going to try and make it a shootout,” Thomas said. “I just wanted to make sure that our players were ready to play from the get go.”
With App State behind 7-0, Darrynton Evans rushed for a 59-yard touchdown on his team’s third play from scrimmage, sprinting through a whole created by H-back Henry Pearson’s open-field block on a linebacker and a wall created by left guard Ryan Neuzil, center Noah Hannon and right guard Baer Hunter.
A three-and-out secured by Nick Hampton’s tackle set up a 12-play, 76-yard touchdown drive to give App State the lead for good. Marcus Williams Jr.’s first three runs netted 40 yards, and Zac Thomas hit Thomas Hennigan for a 6-yard touchdown pass.
App State struck again thanks to a forced fumble by George Blackstock, who knocked the ball loose as Fehr began to bring down ULM’s quarterback. Josh Thomas recovered the ball at the App State 39 and gained 37 yards on a return to the ULM 24.
Five plays after the fumble return, Zac Thomas bulled into the end zone on a 1-yard keeper to help push App State ahead 21-7 late in the first quarter.
Thomas’ 54-yard pass to Corey Sutton, who gained 44 yards after breaking a tackle at the App State 41, set up Chandler Staton’s 27-yard field goal early in the second quarter. Jolly ended the next drive with an interception, and App State bounced back from its first lost fumble of the season to add one more score before halftime.
Thomas directed an eight-play, 64-yard touchdown drive, highlighted by his 32-yard keeper to the ULM 15. Two plays later, from the 1, senior tight end Collin Reed secured the 11th touchdown catch of his career.
By the break, Evans had 130 rushing yards on 13 carries, and App State converted 13 of its 18 third-down chances in the game.
“You just have to do your job,” said Hannon, who has started 32 straight games at center. “The coaches put a scheme together, so that if we do our job, the plays will hit.”
The Mountaineers continued to increase the margin after halftime, moving ahead 38-7 on Thomas’ 15-yard touchdown pass to Evans. Fehr came up with his interception in the third quarter, and Williams added a 1-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter. Jacob Huesman’s 56-yard touchdown on a short pass to the speedy Jalen Virgil capped the scoring.
App State will retain a Top 25 ranking when it returns to action next Saturday for an ESPNU game at South Alabama.
“I think that it was just good for us to get this win under us and still be ranked,” Thomas said. “I think that shows a lot about our team that we can put stuff behind us … All week, we preach that you just have to keep fighting and don’t let the news get too big for your head. I think we did a good job like we do every week trying to be 1-0 every week.”