The class of the Sun Belt Conference showed itself Saturday at Kidd Brewer Stadium.
Appalachian State put up 56 points on a defense that entered the game ranked eighth in the country to defeat Coastal Carolina 56-37.
Two touchdowns in the final two minutes of the first half gave the Mountaineers a 14-point lead and they took command in the second half of a game that can be considered a barometer for the progress of the Chanticleers (3-2), who go into an open week at 0-1 in the Sun Belt.
“They’re obviously a lot better than us,” Coastal head coach Jamey Chadwell said. “. . Are we far off? In certain ways yeah, 100 percent. You could see with their depth, their skill, their athletes.
“But we’re not as far as maybe certain people see. They play at a high level, our guys are trying to play at a high level. We’ve got to continue to get our young guys better. . . . I thought our guys handled this well and that will bode well for us in the future.”
The game was delayed two hours late in the first quarter because of lightning in the mountainous area, which cleared the stadium and turned a frenzied sellout crowd of more than 25,000 into a still raucous half-full stadium when the game resumed.
The Mountaineers (4-0), who have won 36 of their past 40 Sun Belt games including last year’s league championship, gained 430 yards of offense against a Coastal defense that entered the game allowing opponents 254.3 yards for its No. 8 ranking.
After holding three of its first four opponents under 300 yards, App. State amassed 314 yards in the first half, as junior quarterback Zac Thomas completed 15 of 17 passes for 223 yards and two touchdowns in the opening two quarters. He finished 19 of 23 for 246 yards.
CCU quarterback Fred Payton completed 20 of 31 passes for 240 yards and two touchdowns with an interception and scored two rushing touchdowns, and C.J. Marable gained 95 yards on 15 carries with a TD to fall 5 yards shy of his fourth consecutive 100-yard rushing game.
The Chants gained 393 yards of offense Saturday.
“I definitely feel we made progress in certain aspects, then we went back in a few aspects as well,” Payton said. “We just have to go back and make those adjustments. One thing I know our team will do is go back and make those adjustments, every day preparation and things of that nature, so I’m confident in how we’ll bounce back.”
Coastal took the opening drive 75 yards in 10 plays to take a 7-0 lead on a 6-yard Payton run on a rollout to the left. Payton completed a pair of passes for 19 yards and added 17 yards rushing on the drive, and CCU benefitted from a Mountaineers 15-yard personal foul penalty.
But App. State answered with touchdowns on its first two possessions, driving 65 and 58 yards, to take a 14-7 lead before the lightning suspension.
Darrynton Evans scored his eighth rushing touchdown of the season on an 8-yard run to cap a drive that included a 35-yard Malik Williams reception on third-and-7 at the Mountaineers’ 38, and tight end Collin Reed scored on an 11-yard reception to cap a quick three-play drive that began with a 48-yard reception by Corey Sutton.
Thomas started the game 9-for-9 for 126 yards and a TD before throwing an incompletion with an intentional toss out of bounds while scrambling on third down late in the first quarter.
After the two-hour suspension of play, Coastal needed only three plays to drive 70 yards for a touchdown. Marable gained 19 yards, Payton hit Isaiah Likely for 9 yards and Marable raced through a hole up the middle for a 42-yard touchdown run to tie the game at 14.
App. State answered with a 1-yard Evans touchdown run that capped a 13-play, 64-yard drive that included a fourth-and-5 conversion. A Tarron Jackson sack set up a third-and-15 at the CCU 38, but a 10-yard Evans run on a draw and 13-yard catch over the middle by Thomas Hennigan on fourth down continued the scoring drive.
The Chants again tied the game with an 11-play, 75-yard drive that included a pair of third-and-long conversions on catches of 17 yards by Jai Williams and 16 yards by Jaivon Heiligh from Payton, who hit Likely for a 14-yard TD reception over the middle.
A 55-yard Hennigan reception down the right sideline set up a Marcus Williams 1-yard TD run that gave ASU a 28-21 lead with 1:59 left in the first half, and Sutton scored on a 15-yard reception with 45 seconds left after the Mountaineers forced a quick CCU punt and drove 29 yards for the score.
ASU increased its lead to 42-21 midway through the third quarter on a 22-yard Daetrich Harrington 22-yard run.
But Coastal rallied to pull within 12 on two scores in the final 2 minutes of the third quarter – a 32-yard Massimo Biscardi field goal that capped an 11-play, 60-yard drive and 11-yard Payton TD run following a Mallory Claybourne interception.
Jackson hit Thomas as he threw and Claybourne caught the short pass at the CCU 36 and returned it down the right sideline to the Mountaineers’ 29. An ASU penalty moved the ball inside the 15.
“I’m discouraged in not necessarily the loss but some of the things we did,” Chadwell said. “We had some more penalties than we’ve had and we had some busted assignments that we hadn’t had up to this point that cost us big. I’m encouraged because they had a chance to really blow us out and our guys fought back and gave us a chance in the fourth quarter.”
Coastal’s next possession began at its 10, and Shaun Jolly intercepted a Payton pass to the left sideline at the 24 on third-and-14 and returned it across the field for a touchdown to give ASU a 49-30 lead.
Marcus Williams added a 2-yard TD run for the Mountaineers and Jeremiah Miller scored on a 14-yard pass with 27 seconds left for CCU to cut the deficit to 19.
Appalachian State now has winning streaks of 10 games overall, behind only Clemson and Ohio State nationally, and 13 games at home.
“I wouldn’t say it was a different level of play,” Jackson said. “They’re definitely a good team and they execute well, but I’d say today we kind of let the fans and stuff get the best of us and we didn’t execute like we were supposed to. There’s a lot more out there that we could have done.”