CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (Jonathan M. Alexander//The Charlotte Observer) - What looked to be a promising start for North Carolina in its game against Appalachian State, quickly wasn’t.
The Tar Heels scored the first touchdown of the game on Saturday in 17 seconds, but after that it was all App State. The Mountaineers forced three turnovers — two caused by defensive lineman Demetrius Taylor — and they defeated the Tar Heels, 34-31, at Kenan Stadium.
“I think it was more us, really,” UNC coach Mack Brown said when asked what App’s offense did to give the defense trouble. “We didn’t tackle well...We had guys out of position on third down.”
“We made entirely too many mistakes.”
With the loss, UNC drops to 2-2 on the season before its game with Clemson next Saturday. App State is now 3-0.
UNC true freshman quarterback Sam Howell had some good moments, including a season-high four total touchdowns (three passing, one rushing). But he also had three turnovers — two interceptions and one fumble — which proved too much for the Tar Heels to overcome.
He completed 27 of his 41 passing attempts for 323 yards.
“I made a couple mistakes in this game and it ended up costing us,” Howell said.
App State running back Darrynton Evans, who is among the top rushers in the country, was solid against the Tar Heels. He finished with three of the Mountaineers’ four touchdowns. He also finished with 78 rushing yards on 19 carries.
App State junior quarterback Zac Thomas was 20 of 29 for 224 yards and an interception. He added 57 rushing yards, including a 12-yard quarterback keeper on third-and-five to ice the game.
UNC junior safety Myles Wolfolk intercepted a pass from Thomas early in the second quarter. It was his third interception of the season, and his third time holding up UNC’s new turnover belt.
The Tar Heels were never out of it. They have two fourth-quarter comebacks this season. Against App State, they trailed by 10 heading into the fourth quarter, and cut the Mountaineers’ lead to 34-31 with three minutes left.
The Tar Heels had one last shot to tie the game or take the lead, but their drive started at their own 25 yard line with 30 seconds left.
The Tar Heels got the ball to the App State 39 to set up a 56-yard field goal attempt by Noah Ruggles, which was blocked.
The Tar Heels had three turnovers against App State. The first occurred late in the first quarter, when App State’s Taylor strip sacked Howell. Taylor, who came off the edge untouched, recovered the fumble at the UNC 20-yard line and returned it for a touchdown.
The second turnover, in the second quarter, was caused by Taylor again when he tipped a Sam Howell pass to himself and returned it 19 yards to the UNC 26.
Four plays later, App State’s Evans pounded his way into the end zone to put the Mountaineers up 20-7.
The third was an interception in the second half in App State territory, which stopped what appeared to be a promising drive.
UNC junior starting left tackle Charlie Heck missed Saturday’s game with an upper body injury that was announced minutes before the game. Heck, a 6-8, 310-pound offensive lineman, had started the last 25 games for the Tar Heels. It is unclear how long Heck will be out. Redshirt freshman Joshua Ezeudu started in place of Heck.
The injury was the latest setback to an already injury-depleted offensive line. UNC senior center Nick Polino suffered a leg injury on Sept. 7 against Miami and is expected to miss a significant amount of time this year.
7 for 16. The number of third-down conversions for UNC. The Tar Heels entered the game with one of the worst third-down conversion percentages in the country. The Tar Heels were better than they had been, but still not good enough.
3 The number of times the Tar Heels turned the ball over. App State defensive lineman Demetrius Taylor caused two of them, and almost caused a third. Each turnover was costly and either impeded a promising drive, or gave App State great field position.