CHARLOTTE, N.C. — App State closed the 2020 season with a bang thanks to its record-setting performance in the Myrtle Beach Bowl. On Thursday night, the Mountaineers take their next nationally televised show to the Bank.

App State opens the 2021 season with an ESPNU game against in-state foe East Carolina at Bank of America Stadium, home to the NFL's Carolina Panthers. Kickoff for the first game of the Duke's Mayo Classic is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
 
The Mountaineers' first appearance in Charlotte's uptown NFL stadium — the "Queen City Takeover" with an App State logo in each end zone is officially a home game — will double as the first meeting between the western and eastern N.C. programs with both competing as FBS members.
 
"They know it's going to be a tough battle," App State head coach Shawn Clark said of his players. "They know they have to play our brand of football in order to have a chance to win."
 
App State played Sun Belt road games in the Georgia Dome when that was home to Georgia State and the Atlanta Falcons, but the only current NFL stadium where the Mountaineers have played to date is the Superdome, with back-to-back New Orleans Bowl victories in 2018 and 2019 contributing to the program's 6-0 bowl record.
 
App State returns 10 defensive starters, seven offensive starters and 80 percent of the letterwinners from a 9-3 season in 2020, and the sizable group of returners includes 14 "super seniors" who are taking advantage of the extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA. Those 14 players have combined to play 454 games for App State and make 206 starts.
 
"I like where our team is at right now," Clark said. "I think it helps having the sixth-year guys back to help the younger guys out and understand the magnitude of playing college football. Our goal is to be 1-0."
 
East Carolina is entering its third year under the direction of former Lenoir-Rhyne, The Citadel and James Madison head coach Mike Houston, who has followed an 80-25 run at those three schools with a mark of 7-14 with the Pirates. Their 3-6 record in an abbreviated 2020 season included a controversial outcome in a loss to Tulsa and five touchdown passes in a 52-38 win against SMU to end the year.
 
That day, 6-foot-3 quarterback Holton Ahlers threw for 298 yards with four touchdowns, and all-purpose threat Tyler Snead (5-7, 174 pounds) threw a touchdown pass in addition to catching one during a seven-reception, 92-yard outing. Ahlers and Snead, a dangerous returner, are both back as ECU brings back 10 offensive starters and nine defensive starters.
 
"Don't let the record fool you, because if you go back and watch the last four or five games, they're a very good football team," Clark said.
 
With help from versatile linebackers like D'Marco Jackson and Brendan Harrington, App State ranked among the nation's leaders in several pass defense categories last season and were allowing 144.4 rushing yards per game prior to the bowl game, a 56-28 win by the Mountaineers. A big offensive line for ECU opens holes for returning backs Rahjai Harris and Keaton Mitchell, who averaged a combined 127.2 rushing yards per game last season.
 
The Mountaineers have more new faces on offense, but there are also familiar ones like Corey Sutton's back in the mix, as three of the four "super senior" receivers on App State's roster either sat out the entire 2020 season (Sutton) or dealt with injuries for most of it (Thomas HenniganJalen Virgil).
 
With Cooper Hodges and Anderson Hardy still occupying the tackle spots, former guard Baer Hunter has moved to center and will work between the likes of Damion Daley, newcomer Isaiah Helms, former defensive lineman Luke Smith and others.
 
The line's blocking up front will help determine the success of new quarterback Chase Brice, an ACC transfer, and a talented group of running backs led by Camerun Peoples and Nate Noel.

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