CHARLESTON, S.C. ?€“ Walter Payton Award candidate Richie Williams threw for a season-high 259 yards and three touchdowns and the defensive end tandem of Marques Murrell and Jason Hunter combined for four sacks and three forced turnovers to lead No. 22 Appalachian State University to a 45-13 rout over The Citadel in the Southern Conference opener for both teams at steamy Johnson Hagood Stadium.
After falling into a 7-0 hole early in the contest, Appalachian responded with 21 unanswered points to take a 14-point advantage into halftime.
ASU's defense set up the first score when Murrell hammered Bulldog quarterback Duran Lawson, forcing a fumble that Hunter recovered at The Citadel 31 yard line. One play later, Williams found wide receiver Dexter Jackson for a 31-yard touchdown that evened the score at 7-7.
The second quarter was all Appalachian, as the Mountaineers tacked on two more touchdowns to take the 21-7 lead. Williams opened up the second-period scoring by hooking up with Hans Batichon for a 19-yard scoring strike and closed the half by leading the Apps on a near-perfect seven-play, 50-yard, 54-second drive, which culminated with a three-yard touchdown run by Kevin Richardson with just 20 seconds remaining in the stanza.
Despite the impressive showing by the Mountaineers in the first half, The Citadel wouldn't go away quietly, as it opened the second half by blocking a Julian Rauch punt on the ASU 12 yard line. Lawson found receiver Ta'Mar Jernigan for a touchdown pass on the first play of the ensuing drive to cut the Bulldog deficit to 21-13 after the PAT attempt failed.
However, Appalachian responded quickly with a six-play, 72-yard drive, capped by a 14-yard touchdown toss from Williams to fellow senior Jermane Little, which stretched the Mountaineer advantage to 28-13 with 7:27 to go in the third.
Hunter made perhaps the play of the game on the final snap of the third quarter, as he picked off a Lawson shovel pass and returned it 32 yards, falling just four yards short of his third touchdown of the season. ASU made it 35-13 on the second play of the final period when true freshman running back Trey Hennessee scored his first-career touchdown from three yards out. Rauch added a 26-yard field goal less than three minutes later to give ASU a 38-13 lead.
Not to be outdone by Hunter, Murrell closed out the monster day by Appalachian's defensive ends when he picked up another Lawson fumble and rumbled untouched 89 yards for the Mountaineers' final touchdown. The return was the second-longest in SoCon history, behind only a 94-yard return by Furman's Kevin Quinlan against North Carolina in 1980.
Murrell finished the afternoon with two sacks and three tackles for loss to go along with the forced fumble and 89-yard fumble return. Hunter also recorded two sacks and added two-and-a-half tackles for loss and the fumble recovery and interception. As a team, Appalachian sacked Lawson six times, matching its season high set in the season opener at Eastern Kentucky.
Williams led the Mountaineer offensive attack, completing 20-of-27 passes for 259 yards and adding a game-high 94 yards on the ground. He avoided throwing an interception for the fourth-straight game, stretching his streak of consecutive attempts without an interception to 144, dating back to the first quarter of the 2004 season finale at Western Carolina. Richardson caught a team-high six passes for 74 yards, while Jackson led the squad with 84 receiving yards.
In all, the Apps nearly doubled the Bulldogs in total yardage, 423-219.
Appalachian heads into next week's open date at 3-1 overall and atop the SoCon standings at 1-0. The Mountaineers return to action on Oct. 8 when they shoot for their fourth-straight victory over conference-rival Furman. Kickoff between the SoCon powers is slated for 3:30 p.m. at Paladin Stadium in Greenville, S.C.