CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — Darrynton Evans rushed for three touchdowns, and Akeem Davis-Gaither blocked a 56-yard field goal attempt on the final play of Appalachian State's 34-31 victory over North Carolina on Saturday in the instate programs' first meeting in nearly 80 years.
Demetrius Taylor returned a fumble 20 yards for a key score, and Zac Thomas added 224 yards passing and another 57 on the ground to help the Mountaineers (3-0) beat a power-conference opponent for the first time since that unforgettable upset of Michigan 12 years ago.
That one ended on a blocked field goal — and so did this one, with Appalachian State swatting away Noah Ruggles' kick at the buzzer that would have forced overtime.
"It wasn't going to be an upset," first-year coach Eliah Drinkwitz said. "We belonged on that football field today and we wanted to prove it."
Evans scored on runs of 5, 2 and 3 yards while Chandler Staton kicked early field goals of 31 and 43 yards for Appalachian State, off to its best start since the 2010 team won its first eight games.
Sam Howell threw three touchdown passes for the Tar Heels (2-2) — who trailed entering the fourth quarter for the fourth straight game.
"We're continuing to try to find our identity, and our identity so far is, we start slow, we dig ourselves in a huge hole and we come back and fight," coach Mack Brown said. "The first two weeks, we made the plays to win at the end of a game, and the last two weeks, we've run out of time and didn't have a chance to do the things we need to do."
Howell's 2-yard touchdown run with 3:01 left pulled them within three points.
North Carolina then took over at its 20 with 30 seconds left after forcing a punt, and Howell hit Dazz Newsome twice to set up Ruggles' long field goal.
Howell finished 27 of 41 for 323 yards with touchdowns of 21 yards to Newsome on the first play from scrimmage, 11 yards to Michael Carter and 12 yards to Carl Tucker. The freshman also had three turnovers — his first two interceptions and a fumble — that led to 14 points for App State.
Appalachian State: The Mountaineers are a perennially popular pick to spring an upset — no doubt thanks to that Michigan game. The numbers will indicate that this wasn't much of an upset — App State was only a 2½-point underdog — but this result will resonate within the state border. It helped to have top WR Corey Sutton, who had seven catches for 58 yards after missing the first two games for violating team rules.
North Carolina: This didn't look like the team that beat South Carolina and Miami to open the season — in large part because of the growing list of injuries. The Tar Heels, already playing without starting center Nick Polino, were without starting left tackle Charlie Heck (upper-body injury) and starting receiver Antoine Green (lower-body injury). They trailed entering the fourth quarter for the fourth straight game but had their comeback attempt fall short for the second straight week.
Appalachian State: Returns home to face Coastal Carolina on Saturday.
North Carolina: Plays host to top-ranked Clemson on Saturday.
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