BOONE, N.C. — A record-breaking crowd, treated to an unreal game, with a ridiculous fourth quarter to close it.
And some people have to be convinced that in-state matchups like this are good for college football?
With a stadium-record 40,168 fans packing Kidd Brewer Stadium, App State jumped out to an early lead and fell behind by a sizable margin before rallying to pull even in the closing minutes. North Carolina’s defense survived App State’s go-ahead two-point try with 31 seconds left and a game-tying two-point attempt with nine seconds remaining to escape its first-ever football visit to Boone with a 63-61 victory Saturday.
Yes, there were three touchdowns scored in the final 31 seconds, putting the finishing touches on a fourth-quarter in which App State fought back from a 41-21 deficit by scoring 40 points.
“I want to say thank you to App Nation — what an incredible atmosphere we had out there today with 40,000 fans to set an all-time attendance record,” App State head coach Shawn Clark said. “A great football game. A great football game. Why we don’t play these in-state football games every single year blows my mind, but I’m very proud of our football team. We were down 20 in the fourth, and our guys never quit. We’re going to have a helluva football team.”
The first home crowd of 40,000-plus fans at Kidd Brewer Stadium saw the highest-scoring game in the histories of both programs, topping the previous stadium record of 35,126 fans from Wake Forest’s visit in 2017.
Chase Brice threw a school-record six touchdown passes, including four in the final 10:37, during a 361-yard day through the air. Henry Pearson, Dashaun Davis, Christan Horn, Kaedin Robinson, Christian Wells and Miller Gibbs each hauled in one touchdown pass apiece, and App State’s running game produced 288 yards, with 116 coming from Nate Noel in a two-touchdown performance. Defensively, Nick Hampton recorded 2.5 sacks before forcing a momentum-swinging fumble, and Andrew Parker made a team-best eight tackles.
Behind by 20 points in the fourth quarter, App State came back to tie the score at 49-all on Camerun Peoples’ 38-yard touchdown run and Michael Hughes’ extra point with exactly four minutes remaining.
UNC moved back ahead, converting a third-and-9 pass from Drake Maye to an open D.J. Jones for a 42-yard touchdown with 2:50 remaining, before App State moved inside the Tar Heels’ 35 in the final minute. Chase Brice hit Davis for a 28-yard touchdown with 31 seconds left, and the Mountaineers went for a go-ahead two-point conversion, but the pass to Davis sailed just out of his reach.
“I had made my mind up early that we were going for two and the win,” Clark said. “We’re not going for second place at Appalachian State.”
UNC’s Bryson Nesbit returned the onside kick for a 43-yard touchdown with 28 seconds left, but that at least gave App State one more chance, because the extra point kept the margin as a one-score game at 63-55. Milan Tucker’s 47-yard kickoff return to the UNC 48 and Brice’s 22-yard completion to Robinson set up another Brice-to-Robinson connection, this one a 26-yard touchdown with nine seconds remaining.
The Tar Heels took away Brice’s throwing options and stopped him short of the goal line.
App State stormed out to a 21-7 advantage, scoring on its first three possessions to claim a two-touchdown lead early in the second quarter.
The Tar Heels responded with the next 34 points, including a 10-yard pass from Maye to Nesbit with one second left in the half to break a 21-all tie. Receiving the second-half kickoff, the Tar Heels then marched 75 yards and took a 35-21 lead on Maye’s 12-yard touchdown run. They added two field goals before the Mountaineers began their rally.
Daetrich Harrington provided a lift, gaining 13 yards on his first carry and rushing four times for 35 yards on a touchdown drive early in the fourth quarter. Noel capped the drive by scoring for the second time, and Tyler Bird recovered a fumble forced by Hampton early in the next series to give App State new life.
Passes to Pearson and Gibbs, that one resulting in a 13-yard touchdown, trimmed App State’s deficit to 41-35 with 10:37 remaining. North Carolina quickly quieted the crowd, as Caleb Hood’s 71-yard run to the App State 4 on the next play from scrimmage led to an Omarion Hampton touchdown.
App State wasn’t done fighting, as Brice hit Horn in stride on a 32-yard touchdown pass with 7:20 remaining, giving Horn his first career score.
The Mountaineers then came up with a big defensive stop and regained possession at their 35 with 4:48 left, down just seven. Three plays later, Peoples sprinted through a big hole to bring App State all the way back from a 41-21 hole.
A high-scoring game seemed inevitable given the action-packed beginning.
Noel sent the crowd into an immediate frenzy by bursting through a hole for a 52-yard touchdown on the opening series. After UNC answered with its first 75-yard touchdown drive, capped by Maye’s 5-yard TD pass to J.J. Jones, the Mountaineers needed less than two minutes to go back ahead.
Redshirt freshman Dalton Stroman’s second career catch, a 41-yard gain, set up Brice’s 22-yard touchdown pass to Pearson. App State forced a three-and-out punt, and Davis’ 20-yard run on an end-around preceded Brice’s 2-yard touchdown pass to Wells.
To end the half, over the final 14:18 of the second quarter, the Tar Heels put together touchdown drives covering 75, 66 and 72 yards.
North Carolina accounted for all 13 points in a relatively quiet third quarter, and the two teams combined for 62 fourth-quarter points, with App State scoring seven touchdowns.
“That was awesome today,” Clark said. “That was the best fans in the world in Kidd Brewer Stadium today, and that was awesome. It was electric. It was a great college football game. We just didn’t come out on top.”