Hurricanes make their own statement in whipping Mountaineers

September 18, 2016 GMT

The Hurricanes heard all week how important the game was to their opponent. Appalachian State had never hosted a game of this magnitude. A Power Five conference team at Kidd-Brewer Stadium, a game on ESPN — both firsts for the Mountaineers.

It was supposed to be their statement game, their coming-out party.

Brad Kaaya threw for 368 yards and three touchdowns, Mark Walton added 130 yards and two touchdowns and the 25th-ranked Hurricanes (3-0) dominated in a 45-10 win.

The pregame atmosphere was exhilarating. On a sunny day 3,333 feet above sea level in a picturesque mountain setting, a school-record crowd of 34,658 packed Kidd-Brewer Stadium, chanting long and loud.

“He had that killer instinct,” Kaaya said. “I handed it off and I’m saying, ‘Oh boy. … Touchdown.’ ”

It was the Hurricanes’ most lopsided road win since they beat Louisiana Tech 48-9 to open the 2003 season. Miami made the Mountaineers (11-2 last year, 1-2 this year) look like just another Group of Five team.

“I did not have to say something magical to get them fired up,” coach Mark Richt said.

After Walton’s run and Kaaya’s 9-yard touchdown to David Njoku, it quickly got worse for the Mountaineers, who took No. 9 Tennessee to overtime in a season-opening loss in Knoxville.

Standout running back Marcus Cox’ 79-yard touchdown run was wiped out by a holding penalty, and Cox was hammered by cornerback Corn Elder, who caught him as he crossed the goal line. He did not return to the game because of what the school said was a lower-body injury.

Less than two minutes later, Kaaya found Stacy Coley for a 55-yard touchdown pass to make it 21-0 with 1:21 left in the first quarter. Kaaya had a blissfully clean pocket on third-and-9. Similarly, no Mountaineers defender was within 10 yards of Coley, who later added an 8-yard score.

Miami out-gained the home team 216-51 in the first quarter, despite possessing the ball for less than five minutes. UM led 549-241 in total yards, despite an 11-minute possession disparity.

“Got the cushion to where they were probably going to have to break their game plan,” Richt said. “That’s what we wanted to do.”

They seemed to break the Mountaineers’ will in the process.

Appalachian State didn’t make a third-down stop until the 8:46 mark of the second quarter. Even that turned bad, as a fumbled snap at the 2-yard line forced them to settle for a 31-yard field goal 2:02 before the half. The kicker, freshman Michael Rubino, missed a 41-yard try two seconds before the break.

To start the second half, the Hurricanes looked shaky for a few fleeting moments. They quickly silenced the place once again.

Kaaya threw an interception on fourth-and-goal from the 1, and two players fell on the quarterback as he tried to make a tackle. Kaaya limped off with the assistance of UM trainer Vinny Scavo, appearing to favor his left leg.

He didn’t miss a play – or a beat.

On third-and-10 from his own 25, with the crowd screaming desperately, Kaaya floated a perfect pass up the left sideline, behind two defenders, where only a streaking Ahmmon Richards could get it. Richards, who dropped a pass on first down that would have moved the chains, hauled it in for a 61-yard gain.

Kaaya ran up the field pounding his chest and shouting. Joe Yearby finished the drive with a 12-yard touchdown run.

“There was that point there in the third quarter where hey, maybe this is going to get real,” defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said. “This thing could go sideways. Our guys responded. … It was dominant. It was one-sided.”

Richards, the freshman from Wellington High, grabbed a 62-yard pass on the next drive and is believed to have set a UM record for a true freshman with 142 yards on six catches.

Walton found the end zone again with 10:41 left, somersaulting across the goal line for a 10-yard touchdown. He finished with 130 yards on 16 carries.

The crowd began to file out early in the fourth quarter. UM’s backups took the field with less seven minutes remaining.

The Hurricanes, who had five plays of 50 yards or more, had seven all of last year. On Saturday, their quick-strike, big-play offense put together one touchdown drive that lasted more than three minutes.

Miami’s defense, which was supposedly facing its most strident test, registered 12 tackles for loss and three sacks and held Appalachian State to 2-of-13 on third down. Junior end Chad Thomas had three tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks.

“We had to dominate,” Thomas said. “That’s exactly what we did.”