Appalachian Football vs. Illinois State

Here we go with the Second Round:

#16 Illinois State (8-3, Missouri Valley At-large) @ #7 Appalachian State (8-3, SoCon At-large)

Time: 2:00pm

TV/Video: ESPN3

Radio: WKBC 97.3 Wilkesboro, Charlotte, Winston Salem, Hickory & High Country; WATA 1450 Boone, Blowing Rock; ESPN 730 Charlotte, Rock Hill, Salisbury; WCOG 1320 Greensboro, Winston Salem, WMFR 1230 Greensboro, High Point; WSML 1200 Burlington, Greensboro; WCMC 99.9 Raleigh, WZGM 1350 Black Mountain, Asheville; WPWT 870 Bristol, Johnson City; WTOE 1470 Spruce Pine, WDNC 620 Durham, WLON 1050 Lincolnton

Kidd Brewer Stadium

Surface: Field Turf

Capacity: 24,050

Jeff Sagarin Ratings: 

ASU: 58.48

ISU: 62.73

Home: 2.90 points

Illinois State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 1 ½ points (rounded).

Series: First Meeting

Last Meeting: n/a

WXAPP’s Boone Gameday Weather Trends:

8AM – Low 40s. Partly Cloudy
Noon – Mid 50s. Mostly Sunny
Kickoff – Mid 50s. Partly Cloudy
End of game – Low 50s.

From here until the season is over, every game is a battle. In seasons past, Appalachian would have a game or two on the schedule where a win seemed more likely than not, but that was not the case in 2012. Each week has already been a battle. The Mountaineers went at it for eleven straight weeks without a break. One can argue that the Coastal Carolina game was one of those easier games, but the Chanticleers are also in the playoffs. Montana and East Carolina provided tough tests early on in the season, and the Southern Conference was as strong as it has been in recent memory. Luckily for Appalachian, a three week break between their final regular season game and their first playoff game has provided some much needed rest. Illinois State played perhaps their toughest opponent on their schedule in their final game of the season against North Dakota State and sat on pins and needles the following day waiting to learn their playoff fate. Appalachian was all but a sure bet to make the playoffs. For Illinois State, this is their first playoff appearance since 2006 while the Mountaineers are in the postseason for the eighth straight year. However, don’t read into this Illinois State team as one that is just happy to be here. They set goals to win all their road games and did just that. It will have been four weeks since Illinois State last played a road game when foot hits leather on Saturday. Can the Redbirds maintain the road momentum?

The Mountaineers and Redbirds have never met before on the gridiron. Appalachian has played four of the Redbirds conference mates, all in the playoffs, most recently in 2010 against Western Illinois. Appalachian is 4-0 in those games, all being played in very familiar venues. Three times Missouri Valley opponents lost at Kidd Brewer Stadium. The fourth, Northern Iowa, lost to the Mountaineers in Finley Stadium in Chattanooga, a place the Mountaineers visit every other year when playing the Chattanooga Mocs.

Illinois State quarterback Matt Brown was the Missouri Valley offensive player of the year. He is big for a quarterback, tall and strong at 6’4 and 235 pounds. He is protected by one of the most underrated offensive lines at the FCS level. The Redbird line only allowed ten sacks on the season. They average 6’5” tall and 316 pounds across the board, with 59 combined starts. Brown has played in every game of his career, amassing some brilliant statistics. Brown is only 98 yards shy of surpassing 10,000 passing yards for his career. Considering he has thrown for 100 yards or more in 41 of his 44 games, hitting that milestone is almost a given. Although he is much bigger, Brown reminds me of Matt Barr, the 2010 Walter Payton Award finalist from Western Illinois. Brown is more accurate than Barr in 2010, but Barr throw for almost 800 more yards, and tossed seven more touchdowns. Brown is mobile, but does not use his athleticism too much outside the pocket beyond extending the play, opposed to running for first downs. When Barr came to Boone, he had a rough day, completing only 13 passes for 98 yards to go along with three interceptions. The weather in Boone that day might have played a factor as six inches of snow covered the High Country.

The Redbirds are a passing team, as the lead the Missouri Valley in passing yardage, but make no mistake, this team wants to establish possession and run the ball. Fifty-two percent of their play calls were runs. Seven of their games this season, Illinois State won the time of possession battle significantly. Twice the opposing team won the battle of possession, while two other instances, the difference was negligible. In their three losses, ISU lost the possession battle twice, most notably in their home shutout loss to Southern Illinois. Darrelynn Dunn is the primary ball carrier for the Redbirds. Dunn carried 221 times on the season, which is right at twenty-two carries a game, considering he did not play against Southern Illinois. The majority of his carries, 58% of them, were in the first five games of the season. The same can be said about his touchdown numbers. Nine of his twelve touchdowns were in the first five games of the season. In the latter half of the year, Dunn has slowed down, with only 307 of his 850 rushing yards coming in the Redbirds final five games.

Appalachian will counter Matt Brown with a great quarterback in the making in Jamal Jackson, who also needs less than 100 yards passing to hit a milestone. Jackson is 95 yards away from hitting 3,000 for the season. Jackson has completed a ridiculous 65% of his passes. His average of 264 passing yards a game would be higher had he been able to finish the game against Western Carolina. Jackson has become slightly one-dimensional since his injury, but has been flawless. Jackson has not thrown an interception since getting hurt and has added back to back 300 yard passing performances for the first time in his career. As Jamal goes, so do the Mountaineers, as they are 13-1 when he throws a touchdown pass in a game.

Stephen Miller has provided the perfect counter punch for the Appalachian offense when the Mountaineers run the ball. The all-conference performer ranks 11th nationally with 1,307 rushing yards on the season, while adding eleven rushing touchdowns. Miller has been a very capable receiver out of the backfield as well. Miller has twenty-nine catches for 367 yards and another four touchdowns. Most of his receptions are not the check down variety you normally see from a running back. His averages 12.6 yards per catch and many of his touchdowns have been wheel routes from out of the backfield.

Appalachian’s receiving corps is arguably one of the best in the nation. A freshman, Sean Price leads this group with 68 catches for 1,029 yards and eight touchdowns. Appalachian is a perfect 6-0 when he scores. To top it off, Price has put up these numbers in only nine games on the season. Andrew Peacock has come on really strong in the last weeks of the regular season. Forty-five of his sixty-eight catches have come in the last six games. Peacock had a career game the last time out against Furman, catching 11 passes for 130 yards and a touchdown and also throwing a seven yard touchdown pass on his only pass attempt of the season. Tony Washington and Malachi Jones are the possession receivers in this offense, but they also have game breaking ability. They catch just about everything that comes their way and have nicely complimented the rest of the Mountaineer offense. The scary thing about this group of receivers is that they all come back next year.

The deciding factor in this game, many have believed will be on the defensive side of the ball. On paper, Illinois State appears to have the better defense. All of their starting defensive line and linebackers are upperclassmen, with four seniors and three juniors. That experience will provide a test for a Mountaineer offensive line that some consider being very raw. The Redbirds are fourth nationally in sacks per game, while the Mountaineers are vulnerable to a less mobile Jamal Jackson. The key for Appalachian will be being able to run the football consistently. For the Redbirds, pressure on Jackson will be vital to them winning the game. The Mountaineers are a rhythm offense, that relies on stringing together consecutive plays of positive yardage. If Appalachian can protect Jackson, it could be a long day for Illinois State. Jackson has shown he can make just about every throw he needs to, and can sit back and pick apart defenses. I do not believe this Illinois State defense has played as team as athletic, and as skilled as Appalachian. Their coach referenced to his time as a coordinator with Purdue when speaking about the Mountaineers overall talent. It reminded him of a time when the Boilermakers played Georgia in the Capital One Bowl on New Years Day in 2005. Georgia had four players average over 13.5 yards per catch in that game. Three players averaged over 19 yards per catch on that day. For the Mountaineers, they must get the Redbirds off the field. This team looks like one that prefers a ball control game. They have been in shootouts to win games, and they also won in lower scoring battles, so they can adjust their style of play accordingly. This team got off to fast start to the season, winning their first five games, but has since finished the season 3-3. Their special teams is not the greatest, while Appalachian boasts one of the best punters in the nation in Sam Martin. Another interesting statistic I came across is how many penalties the Redbirds had been whistled for this season. Three times the Redbirds were called for two penalties or less in games, but on the other eight occasions, they averaged 9.5 flags per game. The Redbirds have also given up an abnormal amount of first downs via the penalty flag. Twenty-eight times, the Redbirds have given their opponents a new set of downs via penalty, mostly on personal fouls and pass interference calls. The last thing Illinois State needs to do is give an explosive offense like Appalachian extra yardage. I think this game has the making to be a classic, depending solely on Illinois State and how well they play. It appears to be a great matchup, one that will probably not be decided until the fourth quarter.

The First Pick:

State Birds 24

Mountaineers 30

Appalachian State Football: Appalachian vs. Eastern Washington Playoffs Round 2 12/1/2007

Here we go with the Quarterfinals:

#14 Eastern Washington (9-3) @ #5 Appalachian State (10-2)

Time: Noon

TV: ESPN Gameplan

Kidd Brewer Stadium

Surface: FieldTurf
Capacity: 16,650

Jeff Sagarin ratings:

ASU:     70.95

EWU:    60.68

Home advantage: 2.59 points

ASU is favored to win by 13 points

Series: First Meeting

Last Meeting: n/a


It is amazing how quickly the playoffs start with a party and dwindle down to a small gathering. Only eight teams remain in the chase for the National Championship. When the playoffs started, Appalachian expected to be in this very position, as one of the few teams remaining. What they did not expect was to be playing at home on the second weekend. I am guessing fans of McNeese State probably did not expect a rather unknown Eastern Washington team to absolutely demolish them in their own house. That is the beauty of the playoffs. You cannot make plans for next week because there may not be a next week. The way Appalachian played on Saturday, James Madison fans may have been thinking about the next week a little too early as the Dukes plowed over a very young Mountaineer defensive line for 25 first downs. Madison players were talking all week long about, “It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.” With 22 seconds remaining, Appalachian finished strong, and they will hope that carries over against a very dangerous Eastern Washington football team.


It is no understatement to mention that Eastern Washington is a very dangerous team. They are fourth in the nation in total offense with 470 yards a game and they have a player at quarterback in Matt Nichols that will be playing for the Payton Award for the next two years. Nichols has thrown for over 3500 yards and 32 touchdowns, including a dominating performance against McNeese State where he threw for 434 and completed 77% of his pass attempts. Nichols is not considered a pocket passes either, as he has rushed over ten times in six games this season, including four of his last five games.


Nichols primary target is sophomore receiver Aaron Boyce who has caught 80 passes for 1271 yards and 9 touchdowns. Boyce hauled in 17 catches for 232 yards in a 24-23 loss to Montana. Boyce has only caught 1 touchdown pass in the last 4 games as teams have keyed in on trying to stop him. Brysen Brown caught seven passes for 104 yards against McNeese State to up his season totals to 48 catches for 729 yards. Shane Eller has 45 catches for 560 yards on the season.


Eastern Washington has struggled a bit on defense this season. The Eagles have allowed 248 yards a game passing and 130 yards on the ground. Although their rushing defense mirrors that of James Madison in numbers, part of that is how Eastern Washington has been able to put teams away. In half of their games, the Eagles have beaten their opponents by more than three touchdowns. When teams play from behind, they have to pass the ball and not run. Not facing teams that run the ball is part of the reason they are ranked so high in run defense. It may also lead to the reason that the Eagles have given up so many yards passing. The Eastern secondary has intercepted 22 passes this year because teams having to play from behind.


The one common opponent for Appalachian and Eastern Washington is Northern Arizona. Eastern was able to jump on the Lumberjacks really early and scored 28 points in the first quarter en route to a 52-24 win. Northern Arizona was able to run the ball for 298 yards on Eastern Washington. Against Appalachian, the ‘Jacks ran for 234 yards. ASU’s defense was able to hold NAU’s best receiver Alex Watson to one catch for zero yards. Eastern Washington let Watson get loose for 6 catches and 68 yards, including a 55 yard touchdown reception. Eastern Washington won that game in front of 4,166 fans. Appalachian won their game in front of a crowd of 27,104. Armanti Edwards did not play in the NAU game.


For Appalachian, it is pretty obvious what improvements must be made in order to advance to the next round. The offense needs to take better care of the football. Who knows how last week would have played out if ASU had not fumbled on their first drive. ASU might need to give the defense a rest as no scoring drive lasted longer than three minutes and eight seconds against James Madison. A problem that surfaced that has really never been a problem for a Jerry Moore led team is the special teams play. ASU had one extra point blocked another was missed due to penalty. Those two points would have been very valuable if James Madison had not fumbled late in the game. Lastly, the ASU defense must help themselves by getting opposing offenses off the field. The last two James Madison scoring drives went for 11 and 16 plays respectively. James Madison also converted on fifteen third and fourth down conversions.

Appalachian may be without the services of their all time leading rusher Kevin Richardson, who sprained an ankle in the fourth quarter against the Dukes. Richardson’s replacement Devon Moore is more than capable of carrying the load for the Mountaineers, but having the type of leadership and experience missing from the huddle will have an effect on the Mountaineers. It was Moore who caught the 20 yard pass from Armanti Edwards, which provided the Mountaineers a first and goal situation late in the fourth quarter.


The looks of this game suggests a possible battle of strengths. Eastern Washington is a type of team that throws the ball as much as anyone in the FCS. Appalachian has one of the more experienced pass defenses in the country, led by All-American Corey Lynch. ASU brings its fifth ranked rushing attack to the game against an Eastern Washington run defense that has not been tested. Appalachian throws the ball just enough to set up the running game, and the Eagles have been getting ripped all season through the air. This one just stinks of a shootout. As is always important in any game, but magnified even more in the playoffs is holding onto the ball. Turnovers are what gave Appalachian a chance to beat James Madison. Holding onto the football also means giving your defense a chance to rest before you try to score on the other team. Eastern Washington knows how to score. They have averaged 33 points a game this season and 40 points a contest in the last three games. Appalachian has been putting up numbers (41.5 points per game) just as painful to look at if you are a defensive coach. Eastern Washington has been playing playoff type games for five weeks now. They suffered their third loss in the seventh game of the year. Much has been made about the long distance the Eagles will travel before getting to Boone and the early start time. Eastern Washington will be playing a football game like its 9am. Eastern Washington played in front of an average crowd this season of 12,049, while ASU played in front of an average of 28,646 fans. This could have an impact on the game for both teams. All the pressure is on Appalachian, although it has been for the last two years. It all comes down to which defense keeps the other team from scoring. It might take 50 points by one team to win this game. If this game was going to be played anywhere else except The Rock, it would be a toss up. The home field will play a huge advantage down the stretch. The Apps will prevail in the fourth quarter once again.

The First Pick:

Mountaineers              42

The other Eaglets        35

Appalachian State Football: Appalachian vs. James Madison Playoffs Round 1 11/24/2007

Here we go with the First Round:

#12 James Madison (8-3) @ #5 Appalachian State (9-2)

Time: Noon


Kidd Brewer Stadium

Surface: FieldTurf
Capacity: 16,650

Jeff Sagarin ratings:

ASU:     70.62

JMU:    64.92

Home advantage: 2.59 points

ASU is favored to win by 8 points

Series: ASU leads 11-3

Last Meeting: ASU 21, JMU 10


The season is finally over for all but 16 teams who have dreams of a National Championship dancing in their heads. For about eight of those teams, the opportunity to win it all is realistic. Two of those eight teams will face off in first round action in Boone, NC. One team is the two-time defending champions who will be playing at home. The other is the last national champion to win it not named Appalachian State. The Mountaineers opponent, James Madison feels as if they were given the shaft again by the NCAA by not being awarded a home playoff game. Some feel that ASU might have received the same sentence by being forced to the road in a possible second round match up with the playoffs’ number two seed in McNeese State. It’s really irrelevant. These two teams will not be thinking about where they should have been come Saturday. It’s the playoffs. It’s put up or shut up time. On Saturday, The Rock will be just as it is every weekend during the season. The Mountaineers will expect to win and James Madison will expect to pull off the upset. One team will play prepared and one will win and the other will be eating leftovers, dreaming of what could have been.


The James Madison team that will be taking the field at Kidd Brewer on Saturday is not the same team that Appalachian fans saw at the beginning of the 2006 season. That team was all about running between the tackles and play action passing. The Dukes have now adopted a style of offense that features the quarterback, Rodney Landers, who is questionable for Saturday’s game with a sore ankle. Despite his health, chances are he will probably play if necessary, so the Mountaineers must prepare as if he will. Landers has run for 1194 yards and passed for 1554 yards on the season and has had a hand in 24 touchdowns. In the last two games against Towson and William and Mary, Landers ran for 321 yards on 45 carries. That averages out to 7.1 yards a carry compared to the regular season where he averaged 5.9 yards per carry. However, against playoff teams, Delaware, New Hampshire and Richmond, Landers carried for only 5.4 yards per carry and was held well below is his season average in games against Delaware and Richmond.


They one way to stop Landers is get him off the field or force him to pass. In James Madison’s three losses, Landers’ touchdown to interception ratio was 1 to 2. In fact. Landers’ threw all of his four interceptions in the losses to North Carolina, Richmond and Delaware. On the opposite side of the ball, Appalachian is a prefect 19-0 when Corey Lynch incepts a pass. Landers must keep his passes away from Corey Lynch and the rest of the ASU defense if the Dukes are to advance to the second round.


The James Madison defense is considered one of the better defenses in all of the country. They have allowed only 21.5 points per contest and don’t allow teams to gain yards on the ground. They have only allowed 8 field goals and 31 touchdowns all season long. If there is a weak part of the JMU defense, its their pass defense, which gives up 205 yards per outing. ASU has shown in a couple games this season that they can throw the ball whenever they please. Madison only has eight interceptions on the season and has allowed teams to convert 63% of their passes.

For Appalachian the offense is similar that it revolves around the production of Armanti Edwards. When the Mountaineers can get to running the ball like they want, they are hard to beat. Although James Madison only allows 120 yards a game against the run, something has to give. I am not sure that James Madison has enough speed to contain the ASU running game as a whole. All season, teams have tried to focus on stopping Kevin Richardson, and if that worked, they were unable to contain Edwards. At the same time, when teams focused on Edwards, that is when Richardson would shine. Both players did their best running last year in the 2006 playoffs, when they blew away teams with their speed and elusiveness.


The ASU defense must step up to the plate this week as they face another strong running team. Take away Wofford and Western Carolina, and the rest of the schedule is full of teams that are considered run oriented. The Mountaineers have struggled at times this year with stopping the run, yet rank 10th in the nation in tackles for loss. If the Apps allow a somewhat injured Landers to run wild, it could be a long afternoon.


The tone of this game will be set from the very beginning. When I say that, I don’t mean whoever scores first, I mean whoever wins the coin toss. Both teams will likely prefer to take the ball if given the option and that is when either someone will score or get stopped. I think ASU holds the upper hand if they can get on the board first. In the games ASU lost this season, they had to fight back from behind and get out of their offense while doing so. Appalachian is much better team when they play with the lead. James Madison will need to move the ball and keep it out of the hands of the ASU offense early. Against Richmond, James Madison held the ball for only 23 minutes of the game and eventually lost by one point. ASU thrives on the quick score. The majority of ASU’s scoring drives this season have occurred in less than two minutes of possession. Penalties and turnovers are bigger when you play in the playoffs because everyone you play is better and they take advantage of those situations. I think another big factor in this game is field position. Anytime you can pin a team inside of its ten yard line, you force them to scrap half of their playbook. ASU punter Neil Young was able to control the spin on two punts last week to give Chattanooga bad field position. Whether it be Dexter Jackson or CoCo Hillary returning punts, both players have the breakaway speed that has the ability to flip the field on opposing teams. When you talk about field position and punting, the expectations are for a potentially low scoring game. Appalachian has not been held under 30 points all season long and although James Madison is talented defensively, I don’t see why the Mountaineers will not put points on the board. James Madison must make Appalachian play from behind and force the running game, and play mistake free. I think the home field advantage will come into play when it’s over. In 2005, ASU had 6,327 fans for a non-regional opponent in the first round. In 2006, 16,223 fans showed up to watch ASU pummel Coastal Carolina. More ASU fans will pack Kidd Brewer because they have expected to have a game this time of the year. James Madison has not won this year in front of large crowds and the health of their quarterback will certainly be an issue. The Mountaineers should advance to the next round.

The First Pick:

Black and Gold                35

Men don’t wear Purple      26

Appalachian State Football: Appalachian vs. Richmond SemiFinals 12/7/2007

Here we go with the Semifinals:

#6 Richmond (11-2) @ #5 Appalachian State (11-2)

Time: 8pm


Kidd Brewer Stadium

Surface: FieldTurf
Capacity: 16,650

Jeff Sagarin ratings:

ASU:     69.71

UR:       70.45

Home advantage: 2.59 points

ASU is favored to win by 2 points

Series: ASU leads 3-2

Last Meeting: Appalachian 20 Richmond 3, 11/28/87


In any given game in the first two rounds of the playoffs, when looking at match ups, you can usually depict which team has the edge, whether it be that one team is playing at home, or that one teams strength can match up against another teams weakness. When you get to the semifinals, with four teams remaining, the ability to predict an outcome of a game gets harder. Every team is good now. There is a reason that a team is able to obtain double digit wins and advance through the first two rounds of the playoffs. Appalachian and Richmond are no different. Both teams play really good football. Both teams can get up and down the field and score points and have been able to keep opposing teams out of the end zone. Both teams are fighting for that elusive goal of getting to Chattanooga. Richmond will be seeking its first appearance in the title game, while Appalachian attempts to advance for the third time in as many years. Whoever wins will have earned the right to play for a national championship.


Richmond was able to defeat Wofford in Spartanburg last Saturday. That is something the Mountaineers were unable to do when they had the chance in September. That was two and half months ago and the ASU team that took the field on that day is not the same team that it is today. That team may have been accused of inserting Armanti Edwards into the lineup before he was healthy. Edwards was unsuccessful before injuring his shoulder and giving the reins to Trey Elder. That day was also very warm and muggy in Spartanburg, and it definitely took a toll on the Mountaineer defense that was on the field for 35 minutes. The Mountaineer team that will take the field on Friday night may be the healthiest the team has been all season long. Also take into consideration that the game will not be played in Spartanburg in front of 8500 fans. This game will be played at Kidd Brewer Stadium with a crowd of around 20,000 fans expected. Also, the game time temperature will be slightly cooler then what Richmond faced last week in Spartanburg, and nearly 50 degrees cooler then when ASU played Wofford.

The engine that makes the Richmond Spiders go is Tim Hightower. The Spiders leaned on Hightower’s 140 yards a game rushing to win the Colonial Athletic Conference. Hightower has averaged 24 carries a game this year, including 27 carries per contest in the playoffs. A lot of Hightower’s yards came against inferior opponents. Hightower ran for 246 yards against Northeastern and 295 yards against Bucknell. However, Hightower has slowed toward the end of the season only averaging 109 yards in his last four games, and was held to under 90 yards rushing in two of those contests. Averaging over 100 yards rushing a game it still a pretty big deal, but you can see the trend.


At quarterback for the Spiders is Eric Ward who has passed for 2,133 yards and 14 touchdowns. Ward is a very adequate passer and is a threat to run as he has gained 397 yards rushing on the season. Although the Spiders throw a lot, he is a big key to their offense. If Ward fails to be successful through the air, the Spiders will become a one dimensional attack. Ward will need to hit his receivers early in the game in order for Richmond to be able to score points.

Another part of Richmond’s game may have solid results is the kick off return team. Justin Rogers is ranked 3rd nationally in kick off returns with 31.4 yards per return. Appalachian struggled with kick return defense against Eastern Washington, allowing 2 long returns, one of which went for a touchdown. A positive for Appalachian this week is that they have had a week to correct its mistakes and probably have worked extremely hard on kickoff coverage in practice.


Appalachian arguably played its best defensive game of the season last week. Although special teams allowed Eastern Washington to score three touchdowns, the pressure on the quarterback was an issue all game long. Appalachian never allowed the Eagles to get into a rhythm offensively. When Eastern Washington could manage a drive, it was Corey Lynch that was intercepting a pass and DJ Smith falling on a fumble while the Eagles were in the red zone.

Appalachian ran up a playoff record 529 yards of total offense against Eastern Washington. Devon Moore filled in nicely for Kevin Richardson with 100 yards on the ground. Armanti Edwards continued his hot streak with another 347 yards of total offense and three total touchdowns. ASU has had a two players rush for 100 yards in four of its last six playoff games. Receivers CoCo Hillary (37 yards) and Dexter Jackson (41 yards) stretched the defense for long pass plays that kept the Eastern Washington defense guessing all game long. The Eagles had only allowed 130 yards rushing a game and the Mountaineers exploded for 309 yards on the ground.


This game features some of the best rushing teams in the nation. Appalachian will spread you out and find their holes while Richmond will pound you all night long. Richmond will force the run and try to duplicate the game plan that James Madison tried. The best way to keep Appalachian from scoring is having possession of the ball. Appalachian has not been stopped on offense all year long. James Madison is the only team to hold the Mountaineers under 30 points all season. Appalachian will be able to use Kevin Richardson and Devon Moore and make the Richmond defense guess which back is getting the ball. Turnovers are always key in playoff games. Neither Richmond nor Appalachian would be where they are right now without the untimely miscues by opposing teams. The kicking game may also loom large for both teams in a game that is expected to be very close. Richmond has hit 15/22 field goals this season, with two misses last week against Wofford and three misses in their loss to Towson. Appalachian has hit 17/21 field goals and all of those misses were beyond 40 yards. I think Richmond will put up one heck of a fight, just like James Madison did. The reason the Mountaineers will prevail  is because of the leadership of the seniors. These guys know what it takes to win. The experience in the playoffs the last two seasons will be invaluable. Richmond is a very young team and although they will be a force to be reckoned with for the next few years, their time is not right now. Appalachian will be playing in front of a crowd that will be tailgate deprived due to the exam schedule and they will be relentless. I think this game will be decided in the third quarter. Appalachian will score late and force Richmond to pass the ball and they will press the issue and make mistakes. The Mountaineers know the way the way to the Choo Choo. All Aboard!!


The First Pick:

Big Bad Mountaineers    38

itsy bitsy spiders           24

Appalachian State Football: Appalachian vs. South Carolina State Playoffs Round 1 11/29/2008

Here we go with The First Round:

#13 South Carolina State @ #2 Appalachian State

Time: Noon

Stadium: Kidd Brewer Stadium
Surface: FieldTurf

Capacity: 20,150
Jeff Sagarin Rankings:
ASU:     73.91
SCSU:    55.86
Home advantage: 2.77 points
ASU is favored by the Sagarin rankings by 21  points (rounded).

Series: ASU leads 1-0
Last Meeting: ASU 24, SCSU 0; November 17, 1984


This years Selection Sunday was less suspenseful than the same Sunday evening in 2007 for Appalachian State. Instead of the questions of who and where, the question this past weekend was more along the lines of who? Most Mountaineer fans and playoff experts had it narrowed down to a few teams, depending how much emphasis that the selection committee placed on the economy and geographic proximity. Finally, the draw was the South Carolina State Bulldogs from the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. The stage is now set. The Mountaineers march into the playoffs will begin like it has the last three seasons, at Kidd Brewer Stadium, where the Mountaineers have won 41 of their last 42 games and twelve in a row.


South Carolina State has the chance to surprise the Mountaineers. In 2005, Appalachian faced another unfamiliar foe in Lafayette. The Leopards received the lone bid from the Patriot League and Appalachian was also the second seed. In 2006 and 2007, Appalachian faced Coastal Carolina and James Madison in the first round, teams they had defeated at home in the previous seasons. Lafayette gave Appalachian a good game before falling 34-23. South Carolina State is in the same spot, the lone automatic bid from their conference and once again, Appalachian is the second seed. The difference between Lafayette in 2005 and the 2008 South Carolina State team is speed. South Carolina State has it and Lafayette did not. Also, The Bulldogs run a Multiple Pro I formation, which also has spread tendencies, compared the Lafayette and the offense of days past, the I formation.


William Ford is the most dangerous player for SC State. Ford has rushed for 1,382 yards and 12 touchdowns. Ford has a very quick first step and can sometimes get lost in the backfield considering the size of quarterback Malcolm Long (6-3, 257). Ford is complimented well by backfield mate Travil Jamison who has run for 567 yards and 16 touchdowns. Ford is the smaller, quicker back at 5-11, 185 pounds while Jamison runs for the tough yards at 6-0, 200 pounds.

Malcolm Long has some of the best receivers in the MEAC to throw to. Oliver Young has caught 47 passes for 587 yards and four touchdowns. Phillip Morris has reeled in 35 catches for 547 yards and five touchdowns and NC State transfer Octavius Darby has 26 catches for 450 yards and four touchdowns. In all, five different Bulldogs have four or more touchdowns between the backs and receivers. SC State really likes to spread the ball around and it shows on the stat sheet.


Appalachian advanced to the playoffs by running the table in the Southern Conference, posting a perfect 8-0 record. The last time Appalachian had a unblemished league record was in 2006, when they won 14 straight games to close the season. The Mountaineers rested some players against Western Carolina in order to be prepared for the playoffs and they gave other players their chance to shine. DeAndre Presley started his first career game and was awarded as the conference freshman and offensive players of the week. It was the first time in seventeen years that the conference had given two awards to the same player. Presley started in the absence of All-SoCon quarterback Armanti Edwards, who was still recovering from a hip pointer. Edwards expects to start for the Mountaineers against SC State.


The difficult task in comparing teams from different conferences is judging the strength of the conference. The MEAC has been a league that has received one bid to the playoffs for several years. The Southern Conference has been a multiple bid conference for as long as I can remember. It seems this year, like most others, the Southern Conference is strong than the MEAC. SC State has some very impressive statistics, especially on the defensive side of the ball. SC State has limited opposing offenses to 248 yards per game. They also limited teams to only 2.6 yards per rushing attempt. They have only given up 23 touchdowns and have shutout their last three opponents. However, I don’t think those numbers could hold up if the Bulldogs had to play the likes of Wofford, Elon and Georgia Southern. Appalachian’s statistics cant hold up to SC State in certain circumstances. However, any team that can hold an arch rival to 72 total yards has to have a good defense. Appalachian has proved each week that they have one of the best red zone defenses and can really go after the football by forcing 25 turnovers.


So what does it all add up to? We could be looking a shootout on Saturday. SC State scores right at 30 points a game and Appalachian averages 39.3. The two teams combine for 851 yards of offense a game. But this is different. This is the playoffs. Each possession is important and sometimes, if you are not accustomed to the pressure, players can do overplay. Despite the relative youth, these Appalachian players know what it takes to play in tough games. Appalachian battled back after trailing Western Carolina in the first half. Elon scored late in the second half and took a slim lead before Appalachian rallied. SC State has not had to play a tough game for almost a month now. They have cruised to extremely lopsided victories. How will SC State respond if they get down early? That may be the toughest hurdle for SC State to overcome. If the Bulldogs can stop the Mountaineers in the first quarter, they will become more confident and the longer you let a team hang around, the better they feel about winning. The first quarter is the most important for SC State. The Bulldogs must also avoid penalties. SC State has averaged 7.8 penalties for 72 yards per game this season. That is roughly 9.2 yards per flag. Appalachian will be able to move the ball on SC State, and the Bulldogs don’t need to help the Mountaineers with their field position. I think this will be a very tough game. William Ford is the real deal and Appalachian has struggled with stopping the run between the tackles. SC State must control the clock and keep Appalachian off the field. It will be a difficult thing to do considering SC State has only averaged 27:12 of possession per game. I think this is the game where Appalachian finds success through the air and makes a couple huge defensive plays.

The First Pick:


Dog Tired             27

Mount Up              41

Appalachian State Football: Appalachian vs. Richmond Playoffs Round 2 12/6/2008

Here we go with The Quarterfinals:

#7 Richmond @ #2 Appalachian State

Time: Noon

TV: ESPN Gameplan
Stadium: Kidd Brewer Stadium
Surface: FieldTurf

Capacity: 20,150
Jeff Sagarin Rankings:
ASU:     73.04
UR:    73.01
Home advantage: 2.83 points
ASU is favored by the Sagarin rankings by 3 points (rounded).

Series: ASU leads 4-2
Last Meeting: ASU 55, UR 35; December 7, 2007


Win or go home. Survive and advance. Whatever you call, all it takes is having more points than the opponent at the end of sixty minutes. You win to play another day. The next day will be this Saturday. For the first time in Appalachian’s playoff run since 2005, they will play an opponent for a second time. In each of the previous three seasons, Appalachian played 12 different schools in as many playoff games. When the Mountaineers take on Richmond on Saturday, the memories of the last game between these two schools are very vivid. It was a spectacular night and every thing went the right way for the Mountaineers. Appalachian hopes to duplicate that same atmosphere and the results in the round of eight.


Richmond was considered a playoff team all year in 2008. They impressed many critics with a very convincing win against Elon on the opening weekend of the season. They followed with a loss to Virginia and win over Towson. That schedule was very similar to Appalachian’s schedule. Appalachian played a tough out of conference game against James Madison, a BCS foe in LSU and an easy game in Jacksonville. The only other losses for Richmond were to playoff teams Villanova and James Madison, who will play this weekend.


Looking at statistics, it is easy to see that Richmond has a great defense. The Spiders have only allowed 98 yards per game on ground and 16.2 points per game. The Spiders have only given up 251 yards of offense per game and have only allowed 23 total touchdowns. However, once you start digging and comparing how Richmond did in their two conference losses, you find something different. Against JMU and Villanova, Richmond gave up 32 points per game. They gave up 226 yards to both teams in the running game. They also allowed 362 yards in offense in both games. All statistics were way up from their season averages against teams that were very well matched against Richmond.

In the 2007 game, all of the Mountaineer defensive focus was on stopping future Arizona Cardinal Tim Hightower. This year will be no different as Richmond will use Josh Vaughan, another big running back with NFL potential. Vaughan has run for 1,503 yards and 16 touchdowns. He helps Richmond control the clock as the Spiders averaged 32:40 of possession per game. Most likely, Richmond will try to control the clock, just like they have been all season, and just like every team that has played Appalachian. Quarterback Eric Ward is leader in the huddle. The quarterback has thrown for 2,311 yards, 14 touchdowns and seven interceptions. More than Hightower in 2007, Ward impressed me with his ability to know when and when not to scramble out of the pocket. Richmond’s offensive line gave up 23 sacks for 141 yards and even with those yards lost, Ward still managed to gain 270 yards on the ground to go along with six touchdowns.


Appalachian got off to a fast start on offense against South Carolina State. Unfortunately the first drive ended with a fumble inside the five yard line, which gave the Bulldogs the chance to score first and force Appalachian to come back from an early deficit. That has been an unwelcome theme for the Mountaineers in the last two games. Appalachian suffered from the turnover bug in its previous game against Western Carolina as well. Against a team like Richmond, turnovers will eventually haunt you. The Mountaineers need to take better care of the ball or else they could find themselves taking a very early exit from the playoffs.


Defensively, Appalachian held their own by only giving up 3.8 yards per carry against SC State. They did not allow any points in fourth quarter and only allowed Malcolm Long to complete 17 of 41 pass attempts. That has been the consistent theme for the Mountaineers all year long. Appalachian has only allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 48% of their passes and has intercepted 19 passes. The run defense has only allowed 4.2 yards per carry as well on the season. The defensive side of the ball has won Appalachian many games and will have to do the same against Richmond. The Appalachian offense will get their points, but the onus will be on the linebackers to contain the scrambling ability of Eric Ward and the running game of Josh Vaughan.


It is hard to talk about these two teams and not hark on the last game they played nearly a year ago at Kidd Brewer Stadium. Armanti Edwards created his personal highlight film as he rushed for a record 313 yards on the ground and had a part of seven total touchdowns. This year will be a little bit different for both teams. Appalachian has been a team riddled by injuries and the lack of consistency from the running backs has forced them to become more pass oriented. That was extremely evident as Armanti Edwards threw for a school record 433 yards against SC State. Edwards has thrown for 631 yards and 12 touchdowns more than the 2007 campaign and has run for 650 less yards than the previous year. Richmond will have a totally different team to prepare for. On the other hand, Richmond’s offensive tendencies and philosophies have remained the same. Richmond still wants to control the ball and run first, pass second. The huge difference is that Appalachian’s defense is much stronger than last year’s unit, allowing only 20.2 points per contest and have been stronger in the run defense as well. Vaughan is a bruiser and does not have the breakaway speed that Hightower did. Ward will have to pass to beat the Mountaineers, but that has been a huge hurdle for Mountaineer opponents. The Mountaineers will have Devin Radford back in the lineup and the Spiders will have to respect his game breaking ability. In all, I think the Mountaineers have too many weapons on both sides of the ball and I don’t think this years Richmond team can match up as well as in 2007. The Richmond defensive backs average 5’10” and I would love to see who matches up against the 6’4” Brian Quick. This game may not be easier for the Mountaineers, but I think the margin of victory will be much more convincing than last week.


The First Pick:


Black Spiders           17

Black Rain                34

Appalachian State Football: Appalachian vs. South Carolina State Round 1 FCS Playoffs 11/28/2009

Here we go with The First Round:

#7 South Carolina State @ #5 Appalachian State

Time: Noon

Stadium: Kidd Brewer Stadium
Surface: FieldTurf

Capacity: 21,650
Jeff Sagarin Rankings:
ASU:     64.51
SCSU:    58.45

Home advantage: 3.12 points

Appalachian is favored by the Sagarin rankings by 9 points (rounded).

Series: Appalachian leads 2-0
Last Meeting: Appalachian 37, South Carolina State 21, November 29, 2008


Another year, another championship and another uninteresting playoff match up. That song could be sung by both South Carolina State and Appalachian in 2009. When you have similar champions from year to year and the NCAA selection committee is so concerned about travel costs, the odds are good that you will start seeing the same teams more often. In the past four years, Appalachian has been matched up in the playoffs with a team from South Carolina or Virginia. This time around, its even the same opponent from last year’s playoffs. Its starting to feel like South Carolina State is in the SoCon and they are the team that Appalachian plays after Western Carolina. This is not going to turn into a gripe about playing South Carolina State in back to back playoffs, but more of a gripe about not having a playoff system that actually crowns a National Champion. This week’s winner will play the Richmond and Elon winner, which was also exactly the same as it was in 2008. This whole deal is starting to get predictable and that makes it no fun for the funs. South Carolina State thought they were worthy to host a game, and maybe they should have hosted. If they hosted they would most likely play another school, one that they may have not had to play in the past. Every team deserves a fair shot, and this selection process does not deliver it for the fans, coaches or players. It is starting to resemble the other upper division of college football.


Since so little has changed between these two schools in the past year, some much further digging will be required. In the mean time, each team’s best player from 2008 is still around. William Ford is the Bulldogs leading rusher, despite being off of his 2008 pace just a bit. Ford has rushed for 372 fewer yards and four fewer touchdowns in 2009. Obviously teams crowded the box against the Bulldogs in an effort to contain him and the SC State offense. Even backfield mate Travil Jamison has rushed for 239 fewer yards and 11 fewer touchdowns. That’s a total of 611 yards and 15 rushing touchdowns missing from one year to the next. Most teams that lose that kind of production will not win consecutive conference titles, but SC State did. So where did all the offense go?


Quarterback Malcolm Long has had similar numbers from 2008, but they did not come close in the passing game to make up for what they lost in the running game. Long threw for 340 more yards in 2009 and has also completed a higher percentage of his passes by 7% and his average per attempt has increased by 1.32 yards to eight yards per attempt in 2009. One hopes that a quarterback can get better with more experience, and that is exactly what Malcolm Long has done. Long has also lost about 15 pounds from last year, which has improved his quickness and running ability. Long ran for zero touchdowns on the ground in 2008, but has five rushing touchdowns in 2009.


Long’s top receiver is junior Oliver Young who has had at least four catches in every game against FCS opponents. Young has been on a hot streak the last couple weeks with 12 catches for 289 yards and four touchdowns against conference rivals Morgan State and North Carolina A&T. Young has increased his yards per receptions by three whole yards and has caught nine touchdown passes on the year. Last year against Appalachian State, Young was held to just one catch for 18 yards.


Just like last year, Appalachian is wondering about its quarterback situation. Armanti Edwards was injured for the second time in as many years in the game against Elon. Last year, DeAndre Presley filled in against Western Carolina. This year it was Travaris Cadet, a former transfer from Toledo who filled in nicely last week. Cadet ran for 58 yards and threw for another 101 yards, but more importantly, did not turn the ball over. Cadet managed the game and did all he needed to do to beat Western. More importantly, Cadet got the ball to Devon Moore who ran for a career high 191 yards and two touchdowns, and topped the 1,000 yard mark for the season. Right there is where the comparisons stop. In the 2008 playoffs, Appalachian was down to its fifth-string running back and the ground game was ineffective. This season, Appalachian will start an all conference performer who can do a little bit of everything. Moore has 15 rushing touchdowns on the season, including 28 receptions for 248 yards.


The Mountaineer defense has stepped up its game in the last month of the season. Since giving up 34 points to Wofford, Appalachian has held every opponent to fewer points per game that their average. In that five game stretch, Appalachian has held opponents to a meager 17.4 points per game. At this time, that total would be good enough for 7th in the nation. In that same five game stretch Appalachian has only allowed 275 yards of total offense per game, another total that would good enough for 12th in the nation. Appalachian’s defense has also started to force turnovers. In those same five games, Appalachian has forced 11 turnovers, while only giving up 6 on offense. That +1 advantage in the turnover department would rank 11th in the nation. Those are three critical statistics when a defensive unit is measured. Are you giving up points and yards, and are you taking away the football from the other team? Appalachian’s defense has been doing that with the best of them at the most important time of the season.


This playoff game is one of only two in the first round between top 10 teams, the other being Richmond and Elon. This game will perhaps have the feel of a quarterfinal or even a semifinal game. South Carolina State and Appalachian are two teams that have tough defenses and running games that are difficult to stop. The difference in this game start with Appalachian’s running game. As previously noted, Appalachian started a fifth-stringer last year and Armanti Edwards’ injury was worse than what had been diagnosed. Edwards carried 19 times for 42 yards in the win, but was rarely successful. This time around, the coaching staff has a better feel for Armanti’s injury, and will probably run him only a couple times, if at all. Devon Moore can certainly handle the load and it will be a little different than what South Carolina State saw last year. Moore has averaged 17.5 carries a game in 2009 and will most likely see 20 carries on Saturday. South Carolina State’s William Ford is not having the season he did last year, but he is not to be forgotten. Ford ran for 117 yards and a touchdown last year against Appalachian. The difference for South Carolina State could be Malcolm Long, who has been more accurate this season. Long completed only 17 passes on 40 attempts against the Mountaineers last year. Appalachian’s secondary is among the top units in the nation, with 14 interceptions and only allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete 56% of their passes. I think this Appalachian team is a little different that last year’s version and that will throw South Carolina State off their game a bit. The Bulldogs will not roll over and play dead, but overall, Appalachian is healthier than they were last year and it will show.

The First Pick:

Dog Tired                  20

Mountaineers           34

Appalachian State Football: Appalachian @ Richmond FCS Playoffs Round 2 12/5/2009

Here we go with The Quarterfinals:

#5 Appalachian State @ #4 Richmond

Time: 7pm

TV: ESPN Gameplan, MASN, MTN 18 Charter Cable Boone
Stadium: Richmond Stadium
Surface: Natural Grass

Capacity: 21,319
Jeff Sagarin Rankings:
ASU:     65.12
UR:    73.64

Home advantage: 3.16 points

Richmond is favored by the Sagarin rankings by 11 ½ points (rounded).

Series: Appalachian leads 4-3
Last Meeting: Appalachian 13, Richmond 33, December 6, 2008


Richmond and Appalachian State were nearly destined to meet in the 2009 playoffs. In the last two seasons, both teams have traded twenty point blowout victories, and both teams probably felt like they could have played better in their respective losses. The rubber match is set for Saturday, and for the first time, it will be held in Richmond. Both teams seem to be very evenly matched and the stage is set for a great game, even though Richmond is favored. Both teams had tough games in the first round, but that is exactly what the playoffs are all about. You fight to play another day and you fight for the chance to be the last one standing. Both teams know what it is like to be the last one standing as they represent the last four national champions. Both teams will bring the everything to the table on Saturday and leave nothing in the tank. The winner will outlast the other and they will feel it. Will you?


Once again, its another week and another familiar opponent. For the third straight year, Appalachian and Richmond will face each other in the playoffs. Richmond is coming off its first national championship and Appalachian fans know exactly what it feels like to be back in the playoffs with a chance to repeat as champions. In fact, Appalachian fans want that feeling back so badly, that they plan to make Appalachian players feel like Richmond Stadium is their own. Appalachian expects around 5,000 fans dressed in black and gold to be in Richmond to support their team. Richmond has averaged well under 10,000 fans in six home games this season, so the Appalachian fans could become a big factor in this game.


For the second straight week, the Appalachian defense will have to defend a big quarterback. Eric Ward is not quite as big as South Carolina State quarterback Malcolm Long, but he plays just as a big. Ward is 6’2” and weighs in at 210 pounds. His rushing statistics are down from the past two seasons, but he can still move. Ward ran for a career long 74-yard touchdown run last week against Elon and finished the game with 136 rushing yards. Ward’s passing numbers have  fallen off in 2009 as well. Ward has thrown 10 interceptions this year, with four of those coming in his last two games and has not thrown a touchdown pass in either game. In fact, in his last four games, Ward has only tossed three touchdown passes compared to six interceptions. In each game that Ward has attempted thirty or more passes this season, he has thrown an interception. Half of his interceptions have come in those four games (Delaware, VMI, Villanova and William & Mary).


More importantly, when you think about Richmond, the first thought that comes to mind is not a high octane passing offense. Recently, Richmond has been more known as a power running football team. However, running the football has not been as successful for the Spiders as it has been in the previous two seasons. In 2007, current Arizona Cardinal Tim Hightower lead a rushing attack that compiled 234 yards per game. In 2008, Josh Vaughn led the Spiders to 187 yards per game. This season, that number has plummeted to 160 yards per game. Hightower and Vaughn ran for over 1800 yards in each of those respective seasons. Justin Forte has ran for 999 yards, or about 83 yards per game. Defensively for Appalachian, they have not allowed a team to rush for over 100 yards in three straight games, including five of its last six games. In those six games, the Mountaineers have only given up 78 yards per game on the ground.

For several weeks in a row, we have talked about how the Appalachian defense has been carrying the team and it has continued to impress. Last week they held South Carolina State to just 229 total yards, 15 first down and six points. The lone Bulldog touchdown was an interception return. South Carolina State only possessed the ball for 23:44. The Appalachian secondary has collected 17 interceptions on the season, with nine coming in the last four games. Defense will be a big key this weekend, and the defense who plays the best, may carry their team to the next round.


It is hard to talk about Appalachian and not mention how explosive the offense can be, despite several straight weeks of below average production. It seems quite obvious that the season ending injury to wide receiver CoCo Hillary may have had some effect. As has been well documented, Armanti Edwards was injured against Elon and has not been as explosive since then. Edwards worked with a limited playbook against South Carolina State and did not play the previous week against Western Carolina. Saturday will mark three weeks since the injury occurred and the coaches are very optimistic that Edwards will be close to full strength. The Appalachian offense revolves around Edward’s ability to run on designed play and scrambles. When the Appalachian offense is at its best, Edwards ability to run forces the defense to devote and extra defender to stopping him, which in turn creates clearer lanes to throw the football. When opposing defenses are guessing on each play, the Appalachian offense clicks.


During playoff football, every single play is scrutinized. One penalty or one missed kick can make a difference each week. Richmond and Appalachian State know that all too well. Richmond dodged two bullets in the fourth quarter of their win over Elon, as the Phoenix failed to cash in on two field goals late in the fourth quarter that could have tied the game. Appalachian was facing a most probably deficit when South Carolina State lined up for a chip shot field goal with under eight minutes to play. A botched snap that sailed past both the holder and the kicker led to the go ahead touchdown for Appalachian. This week may be no different. Both defenses have been playing extremely tough football as of late and points may be tough to come by. Both teams have the ability to score points, but playoff football is all about trying to not make mistakes. Appalachian and Richmond combined for eight turnovers last week. Any repeat of those type of performances will certainly make it difficult for either team to fulfill their dreams of another national championship. For Richmond, they will continue to play as they have been all season. In games this season where the final score was within one score, Richmond ran the ball on average on 54% of their plays. In games where Richmond won easily, they averaged running on 65% of their plays. Appalachian must contain the Richmond ground game. The story has been the same for the last three years. If the Appalachian defense can force long yardage situations on second and third down, it will force Richmond to throw, where they have not been successful as years past. Richmond attempted more passes than had rushing attempts in only three games this season, which included their loss to Villanova. A Richmond team that is forced to throw plays right into the hands of the Appalachian defense. Defensive ends Jabari Fletcher and Lanston Tanyi have combined for 14 sacks on the year. The kicking game will also be important to both teams. Richmond kicker Andrew Howard is 12/20 on the season and has only connected on five of his last eleven. Appalachian State kicker Jason Vitaris is 18/25 on the season and has connected on his last four attempts. Howard has missed two extra points on the season, one that cost the Spiders a potential tie in their loss to Villanova.

The First Pick:

Eight Legs                16

Mountaineers           24

Appalachian State Football: Appalachian @ Montana FCS Playoffs Semifinal 12/12/2009

Here we go with The Semifinals:

#5 Appalachian State @ #1 Montana

Time: 4pm

Stadium: Washington Grizzly Stadium
Surface: Sprint Turf

Capacity: 23,117
Jeff Sagarin Rankings:
ASU:     69.21
UM:    70.66

Home advantage: 3.20 points

Montana is favored by the Sagarin rankings by 4 ½ points (rounded).

Series: Montana leads 1-0
Last Meeting: Appalachian 16, Montana 19, December 9, 2000


The semifinals of the FCS playoffs are unlike any other championship contest that the NCAA offers. In the other major sports, You advance to a Final Four, a Frozen Four or a College World Series. Those sports include a group of teams. In FCS football, in order to get to the championship, you have to be one of two teams. That’s why the semifinals are so special. It is almost like the championship game before the championship game. You are one win away from a title game, but also just one loss before ending your season. This semifinal will not only decide who gets to play next week in Chattanooga, it also may decide who the team of the decade is in FCS football. Both Appalachian and Montana have won 18 games in the playoffs in the last ten years. They have also combined for 18 playoff appearances. Montana won their second National Championship in 2001 and has appeared in four championship games. Appalachian’s three National Championships from 2005-07 are also well documented. The winner will get bragging rights until 2012 and 2013, when the two schools are scheduled for a home and home series. Until then a chance to play in the National Championship is on the line.


Despite being perennial FCS powers, Appalachian and Montana will meet for only the second time this weekend. Fans of both schools remember how the previous game ended and a very similar finish is also expected this weekend. Montana lofted a pass over the head of Appalachian All-American safety Corey Hall that was caught for the game winning score in overtime in Missoula. Montana had dominated that game throughout in the cold and snow. However, when they snow stopped around halftime, Appalachian founds its groove and fought to tie the game in the waning moments of the fourth quarter. That game has been on the minds of Appalachian fans since. There have been several occasions where Montana and Appalachian were paired in the same bracket of the playoffs, but they have not met again until now.


Montana is currently undefeated but there season has not come without many close games. The Grizzlies nearly exited in the first round of the playoffs before staging a comeback for the ages against South Dakota State. Montana trailed 48-21 with just over 20 minutes of regulation remaining. Montana rang off 40 straight points to win by 61-48, in what be one of the greatest playoff comebacks in Montana history. Montana also struggled against winless Idaho State before kicking a field goal as time expired to win 12-10. The Grizzlies have also won three other game by seven points, against UC-Davis, Northern Arizona and Eastern Washington.


The Grizzlies are lead at quarterback by Andrew Selle, who has been magnificent of late. Selle has thrown three touchdown passes in three straight games and has completed 66% of his passes in that stretch. On the season, Selle has thrown for 24 touchdowns and only five interceptions. Oregon transfer Justin Roper will relieve Selle at times in order to change the pace of the game. Roper has thrown eight touchdown passes and three interceptions while averaging 73 yards per game passing.


Montana has a very underrated tandem of running backs in Chase Reynolds and Thomas Brooks-Fletcher. Chase Reynolds has run for 1246 yards  and 20 touchdowns this year. Reynolds ran for over 100 yards on six occasions, but has only averaged 50 yards on 3.6 yards per carry in his last three games. Brooks-Fletcher ran for 89 yards against Stephen F. Austin on 14 carries. It was only the third time of the season that Brooks-Fletcher received double digit carries in a game. Both backs are great coming out of the backfield as they combined for 41 catches for 287 yards on the year.


Speaking of catching passes, Marc Mariani has been the go to receiver for whoever is lined up under center for the Grizzlies. Mariani has 69 catches for 1,278 yards and 12 touchdowns. In five games this season, Mariani has gone over the 100 yard receiving mark, including both playoff wins. Half of Mariani’s touchdown receptions have come in the last three games. Mariani also handles most punt return duties as he averages 16.4 yards per punt return and has returned a punt and a kickoff for a touchdown this season.


For Appalachian, they are lead by Armanti Edwards, whose resume speaks for itself. Edwards engineered three touchdown drives in the last nine minutes against Richmond to overcome a ten point deficit and lifted the Mountaineers to the next round of the FCS playoffs. Edwards was able to run with some efficiency against Richmond, despite a sloppy field. Edwards ran for 51 yards and two touchdowns on twelve carries. In the passing game, Edwards averaged over ten yards per completion and his only touchdown pass came with ten seconds remaining to Matt Cline for the winning score.

Appalachian balanced the offense against Richmond, as they accumulated 216 yards in the air and 228 on the ground against the nation’s twentieth ranked defense. It was the most yards and points Richmond had surrendered all season long. Devon Moore helped pave the way on the ground for the Mountaineers. Moore carried for 175 yards on 22 carries, including two touchdowns. It was the sixth time this season Moore had eclipsed the 100 yard rushing mark. Moore also has run for multiple touchdowns six times this season. Moore has completed 17 touchdowns on the season.

Matt Cline has been the Mountaineers main receiving threat all season and the Richmond game was no different. Cline caught nine passes for 87 yards, including the go-ahead touchdown. Cline, who has been tagged as a possession receiver has 78 catches for 880 yards on the season. Brian Quick is the deep threat for the Mountaineers. A former high school basketball player, at 6’5” Quick can out jump any defender and is an easy target in the red zone and in the middle of the field. Quick has 51 catches for 847 yards and four touchdowns. In the absence of CoCo Hillary, Blake Elder has added 9 catches for 121 yards in the playoffs.


This game should be a classic. A game between two of the premier programs  in the division is something fans of both schools have been waiting on for years. Both teams have dynamic offenses that can score points in bunches. The team that scores last, might punch their ticket to Chattanooga. However, the similarities do not carry over to the defensive side of the ball. Montana plays very soft coverage in the secondary, while ASU will play mostly man coverage. The Montana defense gives up 247 yards a game through the air, which ranks 104th nationally.  Montana has also given up 20 passing touchdowns to its opponents, which also ranks near the bottom of the division. Montana is also in the bottom third of the division in sacks per game. Appalachian fans know the best way to defend the Appalachian passing game is to get in Armanti Edward’s face and force him to throw on his back foot. If Montana gives Edwards time to throw, he will take everything the Montana defense gives him. That could make for a long day for Montana, who has not faced a multiple spread offense all season long. Montana will have to keep up with Appalachian on the scoreboard. Montana has plenty of playmakers that can make that happen. Montana will need more then Marc Mariani catching passes. Appalachian cornerback Cortez Gilbert is one of the best cover corners in the nation and he is backed up by strong safety Mark Legree, who has 17 career interceptions. Montana needs to get their running backs active in the passing game early and see if they can work in some deep throws later in the game. Montana must sustain drives and keep the Appalachian offense off the field, which has been effective at times. Montana has had two very odd games in a row and they can not rest their laurels on a potential 40 point comeback or being given the football ten times. Appalachian will simply not let that happen. Montana has had the easier schedule of the two schools and I think that will pay off big time for Appalachian in the late stages of the game. Appalachian will get a lead and protect it with the running game. Montana has only faced an average of 30 rushing attempts a game this season, while Appalachian will hand it off close to 42 times per contest. This one will be won in the fourth quarter and Appalachian will advance to its fourth title game in five years.



The First Pick:


Care Bears               30

Mountaineers           38

Appalachian State Football: Appalachian vs. Maine FCS Playoffs 12/3/2011

Here we go with the 2nd Round:

 #13 Maine (8-3) @ #9 Appalachian State (8-3)

Time: 2:00pm

TV: ESPN Gameplan

Live Video:       

Kidd Brewer Stadium         

Surface: FieldTurf

Capacity: 23,150

Jeff Sagarin Ratings:

ASU: 61.62

Maine: 60.85

Home: 2.37 points

Appalachian is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 3 points (rounded).

Series: Maine leads 1-0

Last Meeting: Maine 14, Appalachian 13, November 30, 2002, Boone, NC

WXAPP’s Boone Gameday Weather Trends:

8 AM: Clear Mid 30’s (ish)

Noon: Mostly Sunny Mid 40’s

Kickoff: Mostly Sunny Upper 40’s to Lower 50’s

End of Game: Mid 40’s 

            Nine years ago today, I witnessed my last Appalachian football game as a college student. At that point in time, I thought it was a significant occurrence. I had no idea where my life would take me, and when I was going to see my next Appalachian football game. I sat in the stands, listening to North Carolina’s Band of Distinction play their final notes of the season and reflected to the sounds of the Tennessee Waltz. It was tough walking out of Kidd Brewer Stadium that day with memories of Florida A&M and Stephen F. Austin dancing in my head. It was Appalachian’s fifth playoff loss at home in 16 years that included 12 appearances and 10 home games. In the nine years since, including seven straight playoffs appearances and 14 home games, Appalachian has only lost twice at home, each time in the quarterfinals, to CAA teams. One of those losses was avenged in the following postseason on the opponent’s home turf (Richmond 2008-09). We will have to wait for Villanova to make the playoffs again. The 2002 Maine team that won at Kidd Brewer was the third team ever, and the last, to win a first round playoff game in Boone. The first team to do it was Nicholls State in 1986 and the second was the aforementioned Florida A&M in 1999. Those games stand as the only meetings between the schools. So whether Maine fans like it or not, there are a lot of people that have tagged this game as a revenge game. Until recently with Richmond and South Carolina State, it was rare that such rematches occurred in the playoffs.  This one has been nine years in the making.

             The Maine Black Bears were projected to finish ninth out of eleven teams in the CAA this year. Four other CAA teams remain in the playoffs. James Madison was projected to finish second. New Hampshire was projected fourth. The other two teams, Old Dominion and Towson were projected to finish behind Maine at tenth and eleventh respectively. To say the CAA was flipped upside down is an understatement. Towson was the conference champion. Can you imagine the same thing happening in the Southern Conference? Exactly. You can not, because it would never happen. Projected CAA champion William & Mary finished 5-6. Every CAA team that was playoff eligible, meaning having seven Division I wins, made the playoffs. Wrap that around your brain for a few moments.

            This Maine team reminds me of James Madison teams of years past. They don’t do anything particularly great, but they do it just good enough to be successful. They like to throw the ball quite a bit and that has lead to some nice numbers, but nothing compared to Appalachian’s last opponent Elon. If there is a comparison in the SoCon, I would like to think of a team like Samford. The Bulldogs kind of came out of nowhere, with a senior quarterback who suddenly became a high frequency passer and a ground game that kept the defense honest. Samford was much more balanced by year end, where Maine clearly prefers to pass the ball more often.

            For Maine, it all starts with their quarterback Warren Smith. In his previous two seasons with the Black Bears, Smith threw more interceptions than touchdowns in both years. Smith has had a much better senior campaign, with 17 touchdown passes to only ten interceptions. However, Smith has somewhat reverted back to his old form in his last three games. Six of his ten interceptions were thrown during those three games, two of them being losses. Also, Smith only managed three touchdown passes in those three games as well, his fewest TD passes in any three game stretch of the season. Despite the declining numbers, Maine still scored 89 points in those final three games, good enough for 29.6 points per game, which is actually higher than their season average of 29.5 points per game.

            Pushaun Brown is the main running threat for Maine. The senior is only 56 yards away from his first 1,000 yard rushing season. Brown is very similar in statistics to Samford’s Fabian Truss, and Furman’s Jerodis Williams. Brown and Williams both finished in the top thirty-five in the nation in rushing, but Pushaun Brown did it in only ten games. The difference between Pushaun Brown and most running backs in the Southern Conference is their size. The top running backs in the SoCon include Williams, Truss, Georgia Southern’s Robert Brown, The Citadel’s Darien Robinson, and Wofford’s Eric Breitenstein. Williams and Truss are both only about 180-185 pounds. The triple option backs are very noticeable in Robert Brown, Robinson, and Breitenstein, and are all at least 5’10” and over 200 pounds. Pushaun Brown is 5’10 and 210 pounds. It is tough to compare what is basically a triple option sized back in a spread offense. Imagine a running back that is roughly twenty pounds heavier than Kevin Richardson, and that is what you get in Pushaun Brown. It will definitely be a tough matchup for Appalachian. Pushaun Brown has been dealing with a nagging thigh injury in the second half of the season and it has certainly shown in box scores. Before his injury, Brown gained 67% (639) of his rushing yards in 60% of the games he played. After his injury, Brown managed 32% (305) of his yards in 40% of the games played. Let’s dig deeper. In those first 6 games of the season, Brown was facing stiffer rushing defenses than the final four games he played. The average rank of the rushing defenses he played in the first six games was 49th. The last four team’s average defensive rushing rank was 82nd. It is a given that teams will focus more on a player as the season goes on if he is being successful, but the injury to Brown has obviously hampered his play. If the week off has helped his thigh heal, than we could expect numbers similar to what he put up after not playing against Towson: 26 carries, 144 yards, one touchdown.

            Hopefully, for Appalachian, the week off will be as successful as their week off before The Citadel game earlier this season. The Appalachian offense came out on fire, racking up 49 points and well over 500 yards of offense before eventually holding off the pesky Bulldogs. Appalachian has played well in the second half of the season besides the Furman game, where nothing went right. It has been a totally different team since starting the season 3-2. Jamal Jackson has averaged 267 yards a game passing in his six starts. He is 5-0 as a starter when he has thrown at least one touchdown pass and one interception or fewer. He has completed 64% of his passes in the last six games as well. Jackson also leads the team in rushing touchdowns with seven, which is not uncommon in Appalachian’s spread attack. This is Jackson’s first playoff start and first game with any real playoff action. If he can overcome the moment, play consistently in the running and passing game and take care of the football, the Mountaineers should be in good shape.

            The Mountaineer receivers will have to help Jackson. It has been evident all season that the running has not been as potent as in years past. Travaris Cadet averages just shy of sixty yards a game, but does have 30 receptions on the season. Twenty-two of those receptions have been in the last six games, when Jamal Jackson was starting. Along with Cadet, Appalachian needs steady games from Andrew Peacock and Tony Washington as well. These guys are responsible for moving the chains, especially Peacock. Twenty-nine of Peacock’s 42 receptions are in the last six games. Twenty-four of Washington’s 31 receptions have come in the same six game stretch. Brian Quick is the only Mountaineer receiver that is the exception to the “last six games” rule. Quick is a matchup problem for any secondary in the FCS. Maine is no exception. Every player in the Black Bear defensive backfield is listed 6’0” or shorter. Getting the ball to Quick is necessary. Appalachian is 18-2 when Quick scores a touchdown. The two losses were to Virginia Tech and Villanova

             Obviously there is a lot at stake in the playoffs. For the seniors on both rosters, it could be their final game as a collegiate athlete. Appalachian is accustomed to the postseason, this being their seventh consecutive year in the playoffs. For Maine, their last playoff appearance was in 2008. The experience factor is heavily in Appalachian’s corner. Appalachian has also won 61 of its last 65 home games, but two of those losses have come in the playoffs to CAA opponents, and three came to non-conference foes. Both teams seem fairly even when it comes to offenses and defenses, so the intangibles will certainly come into play. Maine kicker Brian Harvey has converted seven of his twelve field goal attempts, but four of his five misses have occurred in Maine’s last three games. Appalachian placekicker Drew Stewart has eight of his ten attempts, and has been the placekicker in the second half of the season. Sam Martin has connected on three of nine attempts and is probably considered the long distance kicker. Martin has hit two 51 yard attempts earlier in the season, and would have hit another one from 50 yards if it were not for a penalty last week against Elon. In all seriousness, I think game comes down to one possession, which may or may not be a field goal. Colder weather is generally not good for the kicking game. If Appalachian plays to its potential, it can beat this Maine team. I am expecting a great college football game, and hopefully another Brian Quick touchdown.

The First Pick:

Bananas?                     28                   

Mountaineers              35