Last Updated on November 20, 2019 6:04 pm
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — With his pass-rushing skills and ability to bat down throws, defensive end Demetrius Taylor has been a disruptive force in Appalachian State practices.
Opposing offenses are now learning what quarterback Zac Thomas and the Mountaineers' offensive line figured out a while back.
Taylor put up a dominant performance in App State's 34-31 win at North Carolina on Saturday, finishing the dramatic victory with 2.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, a 20-yard fumble return for a touchdown and a 19-yard interception to set up another touchdown.
His interception came after he deflected a pass near the line of scrimmage, and he also knocked down a red-zone throw from UNC's Sam Howell to help force a short field goal during an afternoon in which he posted four total tackles.
“He's a good football player, and he's improved,” App State head coach Eliah Drinkwitz said. “That's our job to get guys to improve every single game, and he does that to us all the time. I told him, ‘Why don't you quit tipping balls for Zac and tip balls against this guy.' Nothing against Sam, but he'll drop his arm slot and move it around. (Taylor) got a chance to tip a football, and that's what he did.
“He played phenomenal.”
In each of the last two games, an App State player has accomplished something that's a first for any FBS player in this millennium.
Taylor is the first defender since at least 2000 with 2.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, a fumble return for a touchdown and an interception in the same game.
Until Darrynton Evans did it earlier this month against Charlotte, 1999 was the last time an FBS player had rushed for at least 200 yards, scored three rushing touchdowns and returned a kickoff for a touchdown in the same game.
The last time a player had 2.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and a fumble return for a touchdown — without intercepting a pass — was Georgia's Marcus Howard in the Sugar Bowl against Hawaii at the end of the 2007 season.
Asked what he ate for breakfast Saturday morning and if he had ever put up a performance like that, Taylor said it was just new to App State followers.
“I'm used to it,” he said. “I had my normal deal for breakfast — just some eggs and grits — and got to it.”
A junior from Miami, Taylor played as a true freshman in 2017 and has 10.0 sacks with 15.5 tackles for loss in 28 career games, with only two of those coming as a starter.
He made one tackle for loss during his first career start in the 2019 opener and set up an important close-range touchdown by forcing a fumble on a sack against Charlotte. He set a career high with 2.5 tackles for loss that day and matched it in Chapel Hill.
With App State trailing 7-6 in the first quarter, Taylor rushed around the end, knocked the ball loose with his blindside sack of Howell, returned to his feet, scooped the ball up at the 20 and raced into the end zone.
“Nobody was blocking me, so it was just a free run on the quarterback,” Taylor said. “Blind side, came with my hand down, and he fumbled. I didn't know where the ball was, and I just saw it last minute and got it and ran it in for a touchdown.”
Five minutes later, Taylor fought off a low block and returned to his feet in time to deflect Howell's hard, low-release pass to the left. He located the ball in time to intercept it near midfield and gain 19 yards on a return to the UNC 26.
Taylor's forced fumble on a sack and interception accounted for two of the three turnovers forced by coordinator Ted Roof‘s defense.
“He's probably the real MVP of the game,” Drinkwitz said. “Three turnovers — we had no chance if we don't get those three turnovers.”