Lafayette, LA. — Let this resonate a bit.
Nineteen plays, 97 yards and 10 minutes, 11 seconds. That’s the specs of the drive Appalachian State used to bury Louisiana on Wednesday night in a 17-7 victory.
“It felt like it,” wide receiver Thomas Hennigan joked outside the visitor's locker room when he learned the span of the series.
The Mountaineers (5-0, 2-0 Sun Belt) held a slim 3-point lead entering the fourth quarter, needing to score or to drain out the clock to stay undefeated.
They responded by breaking out the longest drive of the school’s FBS history, scoring with 1:55 remaining. It was built off a stout running game (which included the churning legs of quarterback Zac Thomas), clutch catches and being on the beneficial side of an important penalty.
App State converted on two third downs and two fourth downs, stranding Louisiana’s defense on the field. A long series can tire out the opposition, Thomas said. He felt the reverse effect as the Mountaineers found ways to push the length of the field.
“I can tell you honestly, the best feeling is when you’re on the field like that, driving the ball and the defense has no answers,” Thomas said. “They can’t stop you. And they’re just bent over reaching for gas.
“I don’t think that gets your offense tired just because you see them, how they are, and you want to just go even more. I think it shows a lot. We put a lot of work into this, and I think it’s paying off.”
Appalachian started the game off by running Thomas early. He saw a cluster of carries and designed rollouts . The Mountaineers also found big gains in the passing game — Malik Williams had a 26-yard reception on the team’s first drive, and Corey Sutton made a 47-yard catch to open the following drive that resulted in a touchdown.
But big downfield plays became few and far between as App State leaned heavily on the run for the second half. Thomas attempted only 17 passes, converting on 11 of those, in comparison to 53 carries for Thomas and the App State running backs.
Coach Eli Drinkwitz said he probably got too conservative with the playcalling. But he didn’t want to get too risky and waste a strong defensive outing.
“It was just a tight game, field-position game. I didn’t want to put the ball in jeopardy. And our defense was playing so good, I just didn’t want to have a crucial turnover.”
App State had 12 offensive plays of 10 yards or longer. Seven of those came in the first two quarters. Chandler Staton’s 40-yard field goal in the third quarter gave Appalachian the lead. But more was required to make it comfortable.
So when the Mountaineers took over with 12:06 left in the fourth quarter, they needed to capitalize. They relied on something they had practiced ahead of the matchup.
Thomas said the team worked on more read-options as part of their Louisiana game plan. It felt like something App State thought it could capitalize on, much like Thomas did last season — he had two rushing touchdowns in a 30-19 title game victory.
Hennigan started the long drive with an 11-yard catch. The Mountaineers ran the ball eight consecutive times before a Malik Williams catch on a third down. Four plays later, Hennigan snagged a 4-yard reception on a fourth-and-4. Then after three more rushing attempts, a pass interference was called on UL’s Eric Garror as he guarded Corey Sutton.
The drive ended with a Thomas bootleg run to the left, a 7-yard score with no defender even close to him. It was a similar look to a play App State used in the first quarter, resulting in a 27-yard run.
“They were loading the box on us,” Hennigan said. “Of course being receivers, Corey and I would’ve loved to take some more deep shots. But I mean like, the two times where he had the bootleg, that’s a call from the sideline.
“He’s not reading anything. They’re telling him, ‘Hey, pull the ball because they’re not accounting for a quarterback with great legs not you.’ ”
Hennigan said after the game, he spoke with wide receivers coach Pat Washington. The gist of that conversation? Sometimes wins don’t come with big leads. But a win is a win.
“He was like ‘You know, there’s going to be games where they’re just going to be ugly but you just got to have more points on the scoreboard than the other team, and then we got to get back and correct it,’” Hennigan recalled. “So that’s kind of our mindset going forward.
"It’s awesome to have a game where you have a lot of mistakes but you still come on top. That undefeated season is still there for us.”