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 @ 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