With just over four minutes left in regulation, the Mountaineers took the field at their own 15-yard line.
North Carolina led, 27-24. Its defense only needed to stop one last drive from Appalachian State, led by Diablo Valley Collegetransfer quarterback Joey Aguilar.
But 12 plays later, the Mountaineers had milked three minutes off the clock and made their way to UNC's 16-yard line, where kicker Michael Hughes nailed a 33-yard field goal to even the score.
Those final minutes of regulation spelled out a recurring problem for the North Carolina defense on Saturday, even as it eventually eked out a 40-34 overtime win: the inability to stop key plays.
“We gave up so many third downs,” head coach Mack Brown said. “We've got to play tighter, we've got to be on them more.”
Saturday's poor defensive showing starkly contrasted to UNC's performance the weekend prior against South Carolina. North Carolina tallied nine sacks while holding the Gamecocks to just 17 points — a feat that seemed like a promising sign for the season ahead.
However, it wasn't the same defense that took the field on Saturday against App State. North Carolina didn't sack Aguilar once, giving him ample time in the pocket to average 12.5 yards per completion.
For a program that's known for its powerful ground game, App State running back Nate Noel's pair of touchdowns and 127 yards shouldn't have come as a surprise. But for the Mountaineers to pull off the upset, they knew that solely relying on rushing wouldn't be enough.
"We have to go out and play our football," App State head coach Shawn Clark said before the game. "If we can't run the football and they make us one-dimensional, then it's going to be a long day, but I have a lot of confidence in our receivers and quarterbacks that they can get the job done."