It’s time to fast-track a new nickname for Appalachian State quarterback Zac Thomas.
“Bamm-Bamm” might have been accurate when Thomas arrived in Boone in 2016. It was a reminder he had a bazooka arm and also that he didn’t yet grasp that not every throw should break receivers’ fingers. Now, not so much.
If the near-upset of Penn State a week ago didn’t codify that Thomas has arrived, then Saturday’s perfect-game performance did. Thomas finished with 14 completions-in-14 attempts for 295 yards and three touchdowns. Yes, that came in a 45-9 blowout of a Charlotte 49ers team not in the same class, but that doesn’t trivialize the fact that Thomas has arrived.
Most of that was Thomas rising to the occasion. The rest was serendipity in the form of a transfer wide receiver from a Power 5 program: Former Mallard Creek star Corey Sutton is now eligible for the Mountaineers after leaving Kansas State and red-shirting last season. Sutton was spectacular, turning three catches into 155 yards and two touchdowns.
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The second of those scores, early in the fourth quarter, was the play of the game. Sutton took a short pass and outran four defenders for a 90-yard touchdown. Any of the 19,000-plus in attendance - a record crowd at Richardson Stadium - could get a thrill out of Sutton’s acceleration.
Anyone, that is, except Thomas, because he never got to see the entire play in real time. He was hit as he released the pass and was still on the ground when Sutton pulled away.
“I didn’t know that he actually broke it,” Thomas said. “I looked up at the student section and they were all yelling. So I turned around and saw Corey breaking it off. I saw it on the Jumbotron - awesome.”
The play was a bit educational, too.
“I didn’t think he was that fast,” Thomas said of Sutton, who caught four passes for 54 yards as a Kansas State freshman before transferring.
These were Sutton’s first college touchdowns, and he found it special that happened 15 minutes from his high school. He spent the summer in Boone refining what he and Thomas could be for each other, with Thomas succeeding four-year starter Taylor Lamb.
“We’ve been together more than a year now; put in a lot of work together with me being new to the program and Zac being the new quarterback,” Sutton said. “Timing is key, and you can see how he’s putting the ball right on the money.”
That’s true not only with Sutton, but with a wealth of receivers. Thomas might have thrown only 14 passes, but he distributed them among seven receivers. His prettiest pass of this game was probably to Dominique Heath when he feathered a 7-yard throw into the right corner of the end zone late in the first half to put the Mountaineers ahead 24-6.
That would have defined the sort of touch throw Thomas didn’t have when he arrived as a freshman from Trussville, Ala.
Thomas’ ball-distribution will make him particularly popular in the wide receivers meeting, as will what he volunteered post-game about the secret to his immediate success as a starter:
“All of our receivers right now are dominating,” Thomas said. “I can honestly say we have the best wide receivers in the Sun Belt.”
Stack the box
The 49ers coaches had a difficult decision entering this game about what to try to take away from a Mountaineers offense that scored 45 against Penn State in the season opener.
For much of the first half, the 49ers filled the “box’’ - the area within 5 feet of the line of scrimmage - with defenders, attempting to contain running back Jalin Moore. That was a logical strategy, since Shelby’s Moore entered this season already having rushed for nearly 3,200 career yards.
Moore was contained: 38 yards in 11 attempts. But that left all sorts of gaps for Thomas to pass into, whether it be tight ends in the flat or wide receivers down the seam.
This didn’t surprise Appalachian State coach Scott Satterfield, and if the 49er’ defensive approach sets a pattern for other opponents the rest of the season, that’s fine, too.
“If they want to stack the box, we hope our guys on the outside will expand” what a defense must honor, Satterfield said. “If it doesn’t, we’ll continue to throw it out there.”
Why not? “Bamm-Bamm” Thomas has found his touch and Corey Sutton has found a home.