Appalachian Football vs UNC-Charlotte

Appalachian State (0-0) vs UNC-Charlotte (0-0)

Saturday, September 12th, 2020 12:00pm EST

TV/Video: ESPN 2

Radio: Boone/Blowing Rock: WATA 1450 AM & 96.5 FM; North Wilkesboro/Hickory/Charlotte WKBC 97.3 FM; Asheville WZGM 1350 AM; Hendersonville WHKP 107.7 FM & 1450 AM; Charlotte/Gastonia WCGC 1270 AM; Charlotte/Rock Hill WAVO 1150 AM; Greensboro/Winston-Salem/High Point WSJS 101.5 FM & 600 AM

Kidd Brewer Stadium

Capacity: 24,050

Surface: AstroTurf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 75.69

UNCC: 50.51

Home: 2.32

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 27.5 points

Line: App State -17

Series: App State leads 2-0

Last Meeting: App State 56, UNCC 41; September 7, 2019, Boone, NC

WxCrum Forecast: Showers from early morning throughout out game. Mid 60’s 

We all know how atypical this season will be. For the majority of the summer we were thinking about Wake Forest and Wisconsin and a team that returns a lot of talent, with promising newcomers that had the potential of turning into a truly special season. And then it all broke loose. The games against Power Five schools are no more. One conference absolutely shut down for the fall, and another protected themselves from the uncertainty and potential embarrassment of a loss. About a month ago, a new slate of non-conference opponents have been lined up, which mixes the old with the new. In a season where local games are encouraged, but not too local, our brethren from Harrisburg will make a second visit to the High Country in as many seasons. The head coaches have appeared to become friends over the summer, have openly stumped to play more games against one another, and passionate debate already exists between each fan base. All the pieces are there for a budding rivalry. Except one thing. Eventually someone else has to win. That could occur this year, in a future bowl game, or it may have to wait another half decade or so. But in the mean time, the teams will play each other this Saturday, without your typical gameday atmosphere. Most of you will be without your regimented routine of a typical Saturday morning or afternoon. We all are going to have to find a different way to do what we love, and if we do truly love it, we will find a way.

Returning in 2020 for Charlotte will be Chris Reynolds, who will start at quarterback for the second straight season. Last year, he set a school record for touchdown passes with 22, which included four scoring passes against App State. Reynolds also set school records with 2,564 passing yards in a season and also a single game mark of 354 yards against UTEP. Luckily for Charlotte he is still just a junior and will be heavily relied upon for the 49ers in the running and passing game. He rushed for 791 yards in 2019, which was good enough for second on the team behind Bennie LeMay, who has graduated. Perhaps the most impressive feat for Reynolds were the three game-winning drives he helped engineer in the final five regular season games that propelled Charlotte to bowl eligibility. However, Reynolds was typically just as good as his offensive line in front of him. He was sacked 17 times last season, with 15 of those coming in losses. App State got to Reynolds four times last year, and Buffalo accumulated five quarterback sacks in the Bahamas Bowl.

Charlotte and Reynolds will depend on their top three returning receivers from 2019 to carry them this year. Victor Tucker led the 49ers in receptions, yards and touchdowns, putting up a 52/909/7 line. Tucker improved his yards per catch in 2018 from 13.2 yards per catch to 17.5 yards per catch in the 2019 season. His 1,621 receiving yards rank 3rd all time in Charlotte history. Second leading receiver Cameron Dollar pulled in 41 catches for 599 yards and two touchdowns, one of which was a 24-yard reception against App State last year. He started eleven of thirteen games and had a 157-yard performance against UTEP. Tyler Ringwood rounds out the returners, as he snagged 25 passes for 395 yards and five touchdowns last year. He is the biggest of the returners at 6’2 and 217 pounds. Ringwood was the leading receiver in the bowl game with five catches for 64 yards.

Perhaps the biggest question mark for the Charlotte offense is who will replace Benny LeMay, by far the most accomplished running back in their brief history. Returning is Aaron McAllister, who registered 380 yards on the ground last year. A newcomer might also have the inside track. Tre Harbison III is a graduate transfer from Northern Illinois, who tallied back to back 1,000 yard season for the Huskies. Harbison III averaged nearly 93 yards per game on the ground for NIU, who went 5-7 last year. Harbison III started his collegiate career at Virginia before transferring. Officially, Charlotte has listed McAllister as the starter, but the feeling is Harbison will also get plenty of work.

Over the course of this off season, the same questions were asked over and over by many regional media outlets. How do you replace this guy and that guy? The answer is not simple, but it can be. Neither Darrynton Evans nor Akeem Davis-Gaither are walking through that door and onto the field. App State coaches learned how to best use their talents, and they will do the same with those who fill those roles for the first time. We have yet to see Marcus Williams Jr, or Daetrich Harrington or Camerun Peoples in a full-time role. We might not see them that way either. But, if it had to come to it, fans should feel comfortable if any of those three were to get the majority of carries. An embarrassment of riches, some might call it. In their careers, all three average over 5.2 yards per carry. Nick Hampton and Brandon Harrington may not be household names yet, but their time is coming. Nick Hampton had 5.5 sacks and two forced fumbles in a semi-reserve role as a redshirt freshman. Harrington played in eleven games as a true freshman. He was too good to sit out a season and that alone should get you excited about his future.

With media availability being somewhat limited, fewer stories seem to have trickled out in the weeks leading up to season. It is just a little bit tougher getting all the electronics set up for video conferencing compared to grabbing a coach or player after practice. In a typical year, one would have expected a story about how UNCC finished their 2019 campaign to gain bowl eligibility. After a very rough 2-5 start, the 49ers needed everything in those last five games to go their way, and they did. Finishing a season with 5 straight wins is similar to the way App State finished their 2014 season with six wins in their last six games. App State was ineligible for a bowl game in their second season of transition, but this was UNCC’s first postseason game. Maybe the bad taste of getting thumped by a MAC school has dampened some of that excitement and momentum. App State wouldn’t know. What we do know is what Charlotte lost year, which were some pretty important players on both lines and also at linebacker. They have had just one year under Will Healy, who is showing he can recruit to the suburbs, but only has one year under his belt doing so. Charlotte is still working with another coaches players which might be real the difference on the field on Saturday. Last year’s statistics are pretty meaningless, especially considering both teams will have new offensive coordinators. One cannot simply look at points per game or first downs from nine months ago and make hypothetical guesses based on that information. This game is unchartered territory for both teams. Next week, that lack of atmosphere will become more normalized, and become less of an issue, but this week, it remains a huge mental hurdle to overcome for both sides. Less so for the Mountaineers who get to sleep in their own beds and play in the stadium they have practiced in. Charlotte has not been to an empty Kidd Brewer Stadium. It may not seem like a major factor to some, but its on everyone’s minds.

The First Pick

Digging for Gold 21

Mountaineers 38

Appalachian Football @ UNC-Charlotte

Appalachian State (0-1, 0-0 Sun Belt) vs UNC-Charlotte (1-0, 0-0 C-USA)

Saturday, September 8th, 2018 6:00pm est

TV/Video: ESPN+

Radio: WKBC 97.3 Wilkesboro, Charlotte, Winston Salem, Hickory & High Country; WATA 1450 Boone, Blowing Rock; WGVZ ESPN 730 Charlotte, Rock Hill, Salisbury; WCOG 1320 Winston-Salem, Greensboro; WCMC 99.3 Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill; WZGM 1350 Black Mountain, Asheville; WDNC 620 Durham, Raleigh; WHKP 1450, WHKP 107.7 Hendersonville; WAZZ 1490, WAZZ 94.3 Fayetteville; WPWT 870 AM, 100.7 FM Bristol/Johnson City, TN

Jerry Richardson Stadium

Surface: Matrix artificial turf

Capacity: 15,314

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 71.30

UNC-Charlotte: 47.96

Home: 2.36

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 21 points (rounded)

Sportsbook: App State -13.5

Series: First Meeting

Last meeting: n/a

WxCrum Forecast: Partly Cloudy, chance for a shower, Temps in 80’s

For sixty minutes, the Mountaineers and Nittany Lions traded blows like two heavyweights in a twelve round bout. As the game progressed to overtime, it was Penn State who landed the final flurry that would complete the most exciting game of the college football’s introductory weekend. A loss is not just always a loss. This was not a game where the out-of-towners simply hung around. Our team not only battled to take the lead twice against Penn State, they also persevered through multiple two touchdown deficits in the fourth quarter. Any other foe may have folded, but not the Mountaineers. Throughout time, Appalachian has faced many long odds in football games, but one thing always rings true. App State is going to give you four quarters. They are going to give you an honest days work. They are going to give you everything they have, because anything less is unacceptable. Now, the scene changes, from one of the largest venues in the sport, to the smallest. Facing a program with twenty-two wins the last two seasons, to one that has eighteen wins, all time. A wanna-be fledgling upstart versus an established storied powerhouse. The roles will have been flipped, and this weekend App State plays the role of the hunted. 

The 49ers are in their sixth season of football existence. Brad Lambert has been the head coach for all six seasons as he was lured away from Wake Forest where he previously served as an assistant, including three seasons as the Deacons defensive coordinator. In the first two years of transitional play before diving into Conference USA in 2015, the 49ers averaged 33 points per game in 2013 and 38 points per game in 2014. During those seasons, the 49ers sported identical 5-6 records. Since Conference USA play has commenced, those numbers have taken a slide. Charlotte averaged 17.5 points a game in a two-win 2015 season, 25.2 points which gave them four wins in 2016, and then completely bottomed out last season averaging 14.2 points in a one-win season. Scoring is not completely indicative of wins and losses in FBS football, but two seasons scoring under 2o points a game is not going to cut it in today’s high scoring college football world. 

 Charlotte has already matched their win total from a season ago. It helps when you play an FCS opponent at home and benefit from two significant weather delays. Fordham’s lack of a run game forced their hand. Eventually Charlotte began attacking the passing game, which led to the Rams gaining just 287 yards on the day, the lowest total that Charlotte had given up since 2015. Fordham was a combined 3/20 on third and fourth down for the contest. Charlotte gained 488 yards against Fordham, a balanced total of 221 on the ground and 267 in the air. Charlotte passed just twenty times, completing thirteen passes. Three passes went for big gainers, a 60-yarder to Victor Tucker, a 71 yard connection to running back Benny Lemay and 45 yard gain for Workpeh Kofa. The 49ers took their shots downfield, but was a very pedestrian 10/17 passing for 91 yards excluding those big plays. Appalachian did give up one big pass play to Penn State last week and its well known that the Mountaineer defense prefers not to give up such plays. 

Last week, we felt sorry for Zac Thomas for one reason; his constant comparisons to his predecessor. Apparently Thomas likes the pressure, as his future performances will only be compared to his very first career start. Thomas was virtually flawless in regulation passing for 270 yards and two touchdowns, all while completing 67.5% of his passes. That’s forgetting 43 yards rushing and a touchdown on the ground. Sure, his one interception was the final nail in the coffin as the game ended on that play, but without Thomas’ performance, App State is not in that position late in the game. Thomas flashed a wide arsenal of skill, from toughness to touch, and remember, that was his first start. 

The Mountaineer receiving group did not disappoint. Corey Sutton somewhat quietly led the team with six catches for 87 yards. Malik Williams’ route running was considered his most improved aspect of his game. Williams was able to slip behind the Penn State defense on two occasions to score fourth quarter touchdowns, catching beautifully thrown balls from his quarterback. Thomas Hennigan was consistent with four catches for twenty-eight yards, despite being constantly harassed by defenders for most of the game. Jalin Moore also added five receptions for thirty-six yards, working mostly from the backfield on swing passes. This newly found receiving threat provides another element in which opposing defenses will have to defend Moore, who only had seventeen career receptions to his name prior to this season. 

Beyond the bad blood and back and forth jawing between fan bases for the past several years, we finally have a football game that will be played this weekend. All the extracurricular jargon has somewhat overshadowed the meat of the real story. In an effort to save his job, Mike Lambert fired both coordinators on his coaching staff this past offseason. Offensive Coordinator Shane Montgomery came from Youngstown where he was known as a balanced play caller. Defensive Coordinator Glenn Spencer  left Oklahoma State to get back to the southeast. His Cowboy teams were in the top half of the conference in the very offensively loaded Big 12 conference. The 49ers showed balanced in offensive yardage on Saturday against Fordham, but they ran the ball 47 times compared to just 20 passing plays. Will Charlotte attempt to employ a game of keep away? Benny Lemay received the majority of the carries, toting it 25 times for 135 yards and 5.4 yards per carry average. That has been consistent with Lemay’s career attempts, averaging in the mid 5.0 range for three seasons. Lemay is well built at 5’9 and 218 pounds. He might lack the speed that Troy’s Jordan Chunn had, but their makeup seems comparable. Speaking of speed, that is where I expect App State to excel. Charlotte often had issues in the first half against Fordham getting separation in the passing game. The two teams actually looked pretty evenly matched early on. I don’t expect many match ups to be even this weekend. This will be a different animal for Charlotte. They will feel like visitors in their own stadium. However geeked they might be for this game, and the crowd they’ll get to play in front of, adrenaline can only go so far. App State was the better fourth quarter team nearly a week ago, and I expect them to be the better team for four quarters on Saturday. 

The First Pick

Digging for Gold 9

Mountaineers 40

Appalachian State Men’s Basketball: Appalachian vs. East Carolina 11/22/2011 (in Charlotte)

The East Carolina game was an exciting one for the Mountaineers. This was the program’s first nuetral court game in North Carolina in many years, and the opponent was their eastern rivals from Greenville, NC. Both teams appeared evenly matched and the Mountaineers were given a slight 1.5 advantage in the game. The Mountaineers were never in the game due to a poor night shooting the ball. I took the Mountaineers considering a decent Appalachian crowd, but they fell at the hands of the Pirates. I fell to 1-1 on the season.