GREENVILLE — It was exactly five years ago that Appalachian State grabbed national headlines by stunning fifth-ranked Michigan in the Big House in its 2007 season opener. The Mountaineers bid to upset another BCS school on the road fell short Saturday, as East Carolina cruised to a 35-13 win.
The Pirates (1-0, Conference USA) fell behind 7-0 early as Appalachian State (0-1, Southern Conference) quarterback Jamal Jackson scored on a 4-yard keeper in the first quarter. However, ECU regained control and pushed aside any thoughts of an upset by responding with 21-6 run that featured touchdowns by the defense, offense and special teams and spanned over the second and third quarters.
All three sides of the ball contributed to the win, ECU coach Ruffin McNeill said. Im proud to get the win. Wins are hard to come by in this business.
Several new faces contributed to the Pirates victory. Junior college transfer safety Chip Thompson returned a fumble 45 yards for ECUs first score, and fellow junior college transfer Lance Ray wiggled his way through ASUs defense for a momentum-changing 90-yard kickoff return that put the Pirates up 21-13 with 2:19 left in the third quarter.
Rays return came on the heels of a Drew Scott field goal that cut the Pirates lead to 14-13, and after the touchdown the Northwest Mississippi Community College transfer reminded his coach why they recruited him so hard.
When he came to the sideline he said, Coach, thats what you brought me here for, McNeill said.
ECU junior quarterback Rio Johnson accounted for three touchdowns in his first career start. He connected on 28 of 43 passes for 242 yards and two touchdowns and threw one interception. Johnson was off target on a few deep balls, but also ran for a 6-yard TD midway through the fourth quarter.
Johnsons first touchdown pass of his Pirates career came midway through the second quarter when he hit receiver Andrew Bodenheimer at the 2-yard line and looked on as the senior plowed his way into the end zone to put ECU up 14-7. Johnsons second touchdown pass came on a 4-yarder to Justin Hardy at the start of the fourth quarter. Hardy finished with six receptions for 38 yards, while Reese Wiggins added six catches for 45 yards.
ECUs defense stifled the Mountaineers much of the day. Jackson produced the lone touchdown and finished 23 of 41 for 300 yards and one interception. Scott added field goals of 26 and 41 yards to complete its scoring.
Jacksons favorite target was junior Tony Washington who caught seven passes for a career-high 102 yards.
While the result wasnt what Mountaineers coach Jerry Moore wanted, the effort his players gave on a hot, airless day inside Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium was exactly what he wanted to see.
I thought we played as hard as you can play. I couldnt do anything but hug every guy in the locker room and every coach in the locker room, Moore said. They played as hard as they could play.
• Appalachian State announced before the game that starting freshman receiver Sean Price and starting junior safety Jamill Lott were suspended for violating team rules. Freshman wide receiver Malachi Jones started in place of Price and caught five passes for 69 yards, while Patrick Blalock too the place of Lott and tallied eight tackles.
• When East Carolina junior college transfer Chip Thompson scored on a 45-yard fumble recovery in the second quarter, it was the first time the Pirates had done so since former defensive lineman Jay Ross returned one 49 yards for a score against Tulsa on Nov. 15 2009.
• Pirates senior NG Michael Brooks was sidelined with a knee injury in the third quarter and did not return.