App State QB shines in spotlight

By Caleb Wilfinger

For the Altoona Mirror

UNIVERSITY PARK — Before Saturday, Appalachian State quarterback Zac Thomas had only thrown 10 career passes at the NCAA Division I level, and not a single one of them mattered.

For nearly four hours in front of more than 105,000 screaming fans, the sophomore and the rest of his team showed no signs of nerves or inexperience as the Mountaineers pushed No. 10 Penn State to the brink, before ultimately falling 45-38 in overtime at Beaver Stadium.

Making his first career start at the college level, Thomas completed 25 passes on 38 attempts for 270 yards and added three total touchdowns (two through the air, one on the ground).

Thomas went toe-to-toe with Heisman Trophy hopeful Trace McSorley for the entirety of the contest, and the first-year starter was calm and collected under pressure, tallying all three of his touchdowns in the fourth quarter to ignite the Mountaineers’ furious comeback.

“(Zac) is one tough kid, and we all had faith that he could come in and shine at this level,” Appalachian State coach Scott Satterfield said. “One thing I love about Zac is how much of a competitor he is, and our team definitely feeds off that.”

The Trussville, Alabama native’s performance was indicative of the mindset of the entire team, and their belief that they could replicate the exact same result that has written the 2007 Appalachian State squad in the history books forever.

“We all believed that we could play with these guys,” redshirt sophomore Darrynton Evans said. “At the end of the day, the biggest thing we’re going to take away from this game is that we’ve earned their respect.”

Evans set the tone early on for the Mountaineers, with a game-defining play on his first official touch since the 2016 season.

After a Trace McSorley touchdown run to open the scoring in the first quarter, Evans ran the ensuing kickoff back 100 yards to even the score and temporarily silence the Beaver Stadium crowd.

“I caught the ball, surveyed the field and just starting running,” Evans said. “When I saw the hole open up in front of me, I was thinking: ‘You have got be kidding me’.”

There were multiple instances in the contest where this young Appalachian State side could have easily faltered and let the game get away from them.

Even after Penn State broke the halftime tie and rattled off three touchdowns in a 13-minute span, extending its lead to 14 points on two different occasions, the visitors would not go quietly.

Putting up 28 of their 38 points in the fourth quarter, the Mountaineers were one fourth down stop away from walking out of Beaver Stadium with a historic victory.

“The thing I learned about our team the most tonight was our resilience, and the fact that we never quit,” Satterfield said. “Our guys are upset, but we’re also proud of the effort we put forth today. I know for a fact that we could fly back to Boone [North Carolina] right now, and this team would be ready to practice as soon as we get off the plane.”

Appalachian State has had a history of playing teams tough from the Power 5 conferences. Most recently, the Mountaineers fell by one point to Wake Forest last season, and in 2016, they pushed then-No. 22 Tennessee to overtime in Knoxville before eventually losing to the Volunteers.

On Saturday, exactly 11 years from their historic upset of Michigan at the Big House, the Mountaineers almost gave the sports world another monumental shock that would have stayed in the memories of fans for decades to come.