Western Foothills Athletic 3A Conference Hickory: 3 Statesville: 0 St. Stephens: 3 Fred T. Foard:…
A record-tying crowd for the long-awaited return of an in-state rival. And a satisfying, bounce-back result to boot.
Facing East Carolina in Boone for the first time since 1979, App State pulled away in the second half to claim a 43-28 victory against the Pirates with a crowd of 40,168 rocking Kidd Brewer Stadium on Saturday. That total matches the stadium record set last year for North Carolina’s season-opening visit to the High Country.
The Mountaineers (2-1) intercepted three passes and recorded four sacks while overcoming two defensive touchdowns scored by the Pirates, who led 21-10 in the second quarter. One of those touchdowns was a short pick-sick touchdown return, but Joey Aguilar fired three touchdown passes after that and finished 17 of 29 for 241 yards as App State played its third straight in-state opponent to open the 2023 season.
After the Mountaineers fell in two overtimes last weekend at North Carolina and gave up an opening-drive touchdown to ECU (0-3), Nate Noel scored from 68 yards out on App State’s second offensive play and posted his fourth straight 100-yard game (dating back to last season) with 177 yards on 24 attempts.
Nick Ross, Jordan Favors and Omari Philyaw all intercepted passes against first-time ECU starter Alex Flinn. Andrew Parker Jr., Markus Clark, Brodrick Gooch and Nate Johnson came away with sacks for a defense that limited the Pirates to 42 second-half yards on 25 plays after the break.
“I’m proud of our football team and really proud of our defense to give up 14 points all day,” App State head coach Shawn Clark said. “I just want to thank the fans. We can’t thank you enough for tying the all-time attendance record here at App State. The students were incredible.”
Aguilar threw touchdown passes to Kaedin Robinson, Milan Tucker (accounting for his first offensive touchdown at App State) and tight end David Larkins (who has been sidelined by numerous injuries but made both his season debut and first career start). Noel, Aguilar and Kanye Roberts all scored rushing touchdowns as the Mountaineers finished with a 465-240 advantage in total yards.
App State took the lead for good on Aguilar’s 35-yard, catch-and-run touchdown pass to the speedy Tucker for a 29-28 edge with 8:18 remaining in the third quarter, and Philyaw’s 26-yard interception return to the ECU 19 set up Aguilar’s 1-yard scoring keeper. Michael Hughes’ extra point pushed the advantage to 36-28 with nine seconds left in the third quarter.
Parker’s third-down sack forced the Pirates to give up the ball again early in the fourth quarter, and the Mountaineers established a two-score margin thanks to a 10-play, 70-yard touchdown drive. Noel had several key runs on that series, and Larkins’ 15-yard gain on a third-and-7 throw extended it. Larkins scored his first career touchdown by powering into the end zone on a 6-yard scoring toss from a scrambling Aguilar.
When Johnson was credited with a sack on a grounding penalty and Favors broke up a deep fourth-down pass, App State could begin to celebrate a second straight win against the Pirates since they agreed to a four-game series several years ago. The Mountaineers, who won 33-19 in an official home game played in Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium in 2021, will travel to Greenville in 2024 and 2026.
“What’s really important is to play these kinds of games,” Clark said. “We had 40,000-plus out here in the rain, and our fan base showed up. East Carolina’s fan base showed up. We’re talking about fan experience and talking about doing the right things for college football. That’s what college football is about.”
ECU opened the game with a 75-yard touchdown drive, but App State needed just two plays to respond, as Noel broke loose for a 68-yard touchdown run that ranked as the second-longest carry of his career.
Hughes added a 36-yard field goal later in the first quarter before an ECU punt to the 1-yard-line backed up the Mountaineers and contributed to an 8-yard interception return for a touchdown by Antoine Jackson on a third-down throw.
A third-and-15 keeper by Flinn kickstarted a 77-yard touchdown drive that enabled the Pirates to lead 21-10 with 2:14 remaining in the half, but Tucker’s 34-yard kickoff return, coupled with a 15-yard face-mask penalty, allowed App State to begin the next drive in ECU territory.
A pair of Roberts runs for a combined 12 yards and a 16-yard completion to Christan Horn set up Roberts’ 18-yard touchdown run with 1:15 left in the half.
An unsuccessful two-point try meant the Mountaineers trailed 21-16 at the break, and receiving the ball to begin the third quarter, they had an eight-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to open the second half. Aguilar hit a well-guarded Robinson in stride on a 34-yard touchdown pass.
Shortly after Favors recorded his first career interception, ECU’s Shavon Revel returned a Roberts fumble 57 yards for a stunning touchdown, but gains of 26 yards (Noel run) and 17 yards (on a Dalton Stroman reception) put App State in position to regain the lead for good.