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The CAA Today: The 2007 Championship Game!
Bruce Dowd, CSN columnist
APP STATE FINISHES DOMINANCE OF THE CAA SOUTH
In what I had hoped would be a classic showdown game, a game that would highlight this level of football, one that would make us all proud of the FCS, the game ended up being anything but. In what could only be viewed a good game by Appalachian State fans and Alum and perhaps Southern Conference fans, App State dominated Delaware in a penalty and instant replay filled, and somewhat unforgettable, sloppy game. This concluded App State’s march through the CAA South as they captured their record breaking third straight National Championship.
By now, most of you either watched the game on ESPN or at least have read the details of the game, so, as usual, I won’t rehash the play-by-play, but rather talk about the essence of the game. Many die hard Delaware and CAA fans will point out that a few breaks early or some bad call by referees, etc. would or could have made a difference and given Delaware a chance in this game. The truth is that Delaware had close to no chance beating App State. The difference here was speed, and plenty of it.
Most people will point to the obvious which is the speed on the offensive side of the ball, highlighted by Armanti Edwards and the rest of the skill positions for App State. However, the real difference in speed was on the defensive side of the ball, especially in the secondary, which had more to do with the victory than anything else. As I stated last week, for Delaware to have a chance in this game, they had to score almost every time they had the ball and hopefully get a few stops. They actually got those stops, but they didn’t even come close to scoring as often as they should. App State was in man-to-man coverage on almost every play and blanketed the Delaware receivers. They were also able to get pressure on Joe Flacco by rushing just four guys. That was the real difference in this game. It was at least the difference in keeping Delaware from staying close enough to have a shot at the end.
The superb picture sequence above by Mark Campbell illustrates many of the important story lines in this game. First, it highlights the step-for-step coverage by the App State secondary which I believe was the ultimate key to their victory. Secondly, it shows one of the many pass interference calls that were missed. Next it shows the pinpoint passing of Joe Flacco as this pass is thrown in the only spot that could possibly be a completion, despite the coverage, which is something that he did all game. In fact, it is amazing to me how Flacco was able to complete 23 passes for 334 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions against coverage as tight as what App State had and considering the constant pressure he was under. Last but certainly not least, the pictures above illustrate the speed and hustle of arguable the best defensive player in the country, Corey Lynch, who came, or rather flew all the way across the field and arrived just in the nick of time to break up this pass play. One of four pass break-ups on the day for him.
So, you can talk all you want about the play of App State’s offense, the 121 yards rushing and three touchdowns for Richardson, the 99 yards rushing for Armanti and his three touchdown passes, but the difference was speed, especially on the defensive side of the ball and as a result the overall play of the App State defense. After the game I asked Corey Lynch about this very topic of team speed and asked if he thought going into the game that they felt this might have been an advantage for them to which he responded; “I would say that that is probably our only advantage is team speed, as far as the defense goes. We don’t have monster linebackers like Delaware has and most of the other teams have, but our linebackers are fast. It is like a swarm of bees almost. So that is our forte, speed.” Later in the press conference coach Moore had this to say about that topic; “Well the recruiting is where all this starts. We try to get fast players that are aggressive players that are good students. We’ve been pretty fortunate at doing that. We look at speed a lot. One of the things we never worry about is height. We don’t even take height into consideration. We look at speed; we look at aggressiveness and find a place for guys to play.”
Because the outcome of this game was obvious early on, I was left with just enjoying the play of some very special athletes in this game. As mentioned, in addition to the watching who I now believe to be the best defensive player in the country in Corey Lynch, I also felt that this game had the two best quarterbacks in the country at this level and two of the top running backs to ever play in the FCS as well. So, I just marveled at their play as the game went on.
As I mentioned last week, I believe that Armanti Edwards is the single greatest weapon I have ever seen at this level of football. I also believe he is currently the best player in the country in the entire FCS. He will eventually be playing on Sundays some day. I am not sure if he will be at quarterback, perhaps a wide receiver and/or kick return specialist. Although, he does have a great arm and is very accurate so you never know. All he did in these playoffs was throw for 727 yards on 50 of 70 passing and eight touchdowns with no interceptions, to go with his eight rushing touchdowns and 660 yards on the ground with no lost fumbles.
Flacco may be the best pure passer I have ever seen at this level. Some people now have him as the fourth highest rated quarterback in the country at all levels headed into the draft. He has a gun for an arm and can be so accurate at times. Makes very few mistakes, always seems poised and has much better running skills and scrambling ability than many people thought. We will definitely be watching this guy on Sundays. All he did in these playoffs was throw for 1,088 yards on 80 of 151 passing and six touchdowns with no interceptions, to go with a rushing touchdown.
Omar Cuff has been a pleasure to watch all year. He is a complete back and as result also has a shot of playing on Sundays. He can catch it, he can run with it and he can also block. Omar had 39 touchdowns this year, breaking the record of, guess who? Kevin Richardson. He also finished with 73 touchdowns in his career, one short of guess who? Kevin Richardson. In the championship game, he had 84 yards rushing and 41 yards receiving and one touchdown.
Kevin Richardson finished his career with 74 touchdowns. That is 147 touchdowns between Omar and Kevin combined. Kevin had an outstanding championship game with 121 yards rushing, 27 yards receiving and three touchdowns. Let’s not forget one of his most important accomplishments, as he finished with three National Championship rings. It was simply a pleasure to watch these five great athletes perform last Friday and they will all be missed next year.
WHO WAS THE MOST OVER MATCHED?
This game had three teams in it, Delaware, Appalachian State, and the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference officials. Two of these teams were severely overmatched and it wasn’t App State. I found it highly unusual, even in this day of the no-huddle hurry-up offense that it seemed the officiating crew had more huddles then both teams combined.
Before I continue with this section I want to make one thing perfectly clear; Delaware had no chance of winning this game no matter how the officiating went. App State was clearly the better team. This is not about “sour grapes.” Even though it looked like Delaware continually got the short end of the stick, no amount of changed calls would have changed the final outcome of the game. However, it would have certainly made it a little closer and more importantly had made it more of a showcase game that most of us were hoping for. A game that might have made all of us in the FCS proud of this level of football, but instead, the bad officiating dominated the game and turned the game into more of a circus than as showcase.
I understand that the officiating is rotated every year and that this was supposed to be the year for the Colonial Athletic Association, but they had to bow out due to having a team in, so that put the MEAC in as the next one up for the rotation. The only good thing about that is it means they will not be back for awhile. I really hate to even mention this topic. For those of you who have followed my column all year you know that I have only mentioned the refs or bad calls maybe once or twice all year, but this game was by far the worst officiated game I have seen all year. It was a large part of the conversation in the press box during and after the game. I spent most of my time on the sidelines and wanted to wait until I got home and watched the replay on my Tivo and it was as bad as I thought it would be. Again, please understand I am not in any way insinuating that Delaware would have won this game if the calls had been better, but rather, what bothered me the most is what it did to the quality of the game. This was our championship. It was a classic match-up of two great institutions that ended up being marred by a very poor performance by the referees. They lost control of this game early and to me they looked influenced by the size and noise of the crowd and simply just looked like they were the most overmatched team on the field.
A CAA TODAY TRIBUTE TO APPALACHIAN STATE
I have played the “CAA Homer” role very strongly all year, lobbying for five teams in the playoffs, getting it and then strongly defending it. I still contend that the CAA is the strongest and deepest conference in the country but the Southern Conference continues to have the best team in the country most of the years. For years Georgia Southern had dominated, now it is Appalachian State. My hat is off to App State and the Southern Conference. What an accomplishment for App State to get three in a row. It is hard enough to get to two straight championship games, never mind three and then to win three in row, well it may be a long time before we see that again.
A side note to the CAA coaches and their recruiting staff; you better start concentrating on speed if we hope to dethrone the Southern Conference from this championship domination. As they say, “speed kills.”
Due to the fact that this was an all week event I got to know a lot more about Appalachian State, their school, the players, the coaches and the fans. There are a lot of stories at this level of football all across the country, but this year was a very special year for the FCS and much of that is due to App State. They are a very special group of guys and very close as I am sure most teams are. Both Delaware and App State got to where they where for a reason. They are both great institutions with great coaching staffs and a very special bond among all their players. That was something you could sense all week. So, congratulations to App State and to all their fans. This was a well deserved victory. You guys clearly proved you were the best team, no question about it!
Sidebar: (Something to think about for the future); I have thought about this for several years now and several fans have suggested it to me as well. I would love to see a week each year where the Southern Conference and the CAA have a “showdown week”. Obviously with the Southern having only eight teams (nine starting next year) and the CAA having twelve, long range scheduling, etc. it presents a few problems, but I think those problems could be worked out. It would just be great for the FCS in general. Myron Hosea of the CSN So South and I were discussing this during the game. I am going to use whatever influence I have (which in reality isn’t much) to try and make this happen. If you folks think it is a good idea I would love to hear from you. Perhaps we can organize a grass roots effort to get it done. It will obviously take years, but it has to all start somewhere.
ON A PERSONAL NOTE: A SPECIAL THANKS TO THE FANS OF APP STATE
As many of you know, I love to walk the tailgates at games and interact with the fans and this game was no exception as I started walking the tailgate a full eight hours before the game. Obviously it was dominated by App State fans and it was pleasure to spend time talking to them. As expected, they showed a great deal of pride in their school and team, but they always handled themselves with class and treated me and all the fans of Delaware with respect. It was just great to see the interaction between the two universities and their fans and the love for this level of football that was shared by all. Personally, I owe a special thanks to several of the App State fans as you will see from the next section, but first, here is a picture of me getting into the “swing” of things with an App State fan.
When asked to describe the atmosphere at Chattanooga, especially how it might have felt to be outnumbered in the fan base, K.C. Keeler responded with this; “We have been on the road for a while now and it was just like another road game for us. Appalachian State fans were incredible. I was down at the stadium this morning just going for a walk and I saw so many of them. [and they said] you guys have a great team and good luck to you, and I said the same thing back. It was two great Universities playing each other. Again, it was a tremendous atmosphere and our kids loved playing in it . . .”
A PERSONAL STORY; BOOKENDS TO A GREAT SEASON
What a year for the CAA and what a pleasure it was for me to cover it and bring it to you. It all started for me in late August at the inaugural CAA game between Delaware and William and Mary. What a great atmosphere and setting in Williamsburg. Who would have known then what we were in for this year? Who would have guessed then that Delaware would be in the championship game and be one of a record setting five teams in the playoffs from the CAA? Then the season ended for me in Chattanooga, again watching Delaware play, this time for the championship. So what do these bookend games have to do with a personal story? Well, here are the details as I hope you will indulge me for this heart-warming season ending story, especially during the holiday season.
First, a little background is in order. I have two grandsons who are both avid football fans (can’t imagine where they get that from). Austin Burkhard is 13 years old and the other, Hack Wilson is now nine. Austin’s mother (my daughter) graduated from Delaware. Hack’s father (my son-in-law) also graduated from Delaware. Austin had asked earlier in the summer if he could attend the opening game in Williamsburg, so I spent time teaching him how to use my digital camera, and I had the pleasure of sharing that experience with him as he became my photographer for that game.
Several weeks prior to the season beginning, at Media Day for the CAA, they gave out inaugural footballs commemorating the game. Knowing that my grandson would be joining me I asked Scott Meyer, the Director of Football Communications for the CAA, if it was possible to get an extra ball for my grandson. Unfortunately, he was unable to obtain one for me, so I just gave the one I had to Austin. After the game was over, Austin was able to meet and secure the autographs of coach Jimmy Laycock and K.C. Keeler on that ball and also met and got Omar Cuff’s autograph. If you remember, that was a record breaking performance by Omar with seven touchdowns in that game. It was a moment for me as a grandfather to be able to share that experience with Austin and see how excited he was with getting to meet Keeler, Laycock and Omar. That ball now sits in a case in his bedroom as a reminder to an experience I am sure he will never forget. As the season progressed, both Austin and Hack attended many Delaware games and as they always do, rooted for their team.
But, that now brings us to the other bookend to my season, the championship game. The day before the championship game, I was talking with Scott Meyer again and he handed me an inaugural commemorative coin, a replica I believe of the coin used for the coin toss in the opening game this year as thanks for all my effort this year on behalf of the CAA. He then handed me a second one and said this was for my grandson. Now that means he remembered from the opening Media Day about my request for another football. Only at this level of football my friends does that kind of thing happen.
Now in case you haven’t already figured it out, this bookend involves my other grandson, Hack. Hack had become an avid Joe Flacco fan during the year, including wearing his #5 jersey for the last two years, even though recently it had become way too small for him, we just couldn’t get it off of him. After finding out that Delaware had made the game, his mother and father decided to surprise him and let him miss school on Friday and fly down with his father and attend the game.
This is where the interaction with the App State fans begins. In case you hadn’t heard, there was a big mix-up in how many tickets Delaware should order and the 3,000 they ordered went too fast for us to secure any. So, father and son headed down to Chattanooga anyway, sans tickets. Securing tickets for them became Pop-Pop’s nightmare. I started by tapping every media connection I knew, but there were just no tickets to be had. So I kept looking during my tailgate walk to see if any scalpers were around. They didn’t show up until late and tickets were going anywhere from $100 to $250 a ticket, if you could even find one. In one of my conversations with an App State fan I mentioned the ticket dilemma and the story about my grandson coming down to the game. A few minutes after I left his tailgate section he chased me down from behind and tapped me on the shoulder. He said the thought of my grandson not having a ticket was bothering him and he couldn’t let that happen. He asked me to stop back later and he might have one ticket available. About a half hour later as I was again walking near his tailgate he waved to me and said he had the ticket. He sold it to me for face value and refused to take any more money, even though he could have easily got $100 or more for the ticket. He even said if I had to have my grandson sit alone he would watch him for me. Later in the day I was able to secure a second ticket for my son-in-law also from another App State fan. He sold to it me for $10 over face value but only because the guy who had the ticket originally asked him to do that. He actually felt bad about getting the extra $10. The two tickets allowed them both to get into the game and they were able to sit together and squeeze into one of the seats.
Now, think about this for a second. I am a reporter covering the CAA, NOT the Southern Conference and my family is coming to cheer for Delaware and this is the kind of response and welcome I got from App State fans. That is just pure class! A special thanks to all those App State fans who tried to help me and especially to the two who did. Those were the only tickets I could get and otherwise my family would not have been able to attend the game. In the picture above, the second guy from the right is R.C. “Chip” Eaker, Jr. the one who ran me down to give me that first ticket. As you will see from the rest of this story, a great personal moment for father and son never would have happened if it were not for people like Chip. All of you in the CAA need to know that App State’s fans were just as great as their team.
Now, to finish up the story; Again, probably something I wasn’t supposed to do, but tough, deal with it. The day before the game I happened to get a moment with Joe Flacco and told him about my grandson and mentioned that if he got a chance on game day that I know my grandson would appreciate meeting him and getting an autograph. He said sure, no problem. But I knew the chances of that were slim as he has many more things on his mind than an autograph for one kid, especially on game day. After the game was over, I told my son-in-law that I wasn’t really allowed to do anything about arranging autographs but did show him where the press conference was going to be held. After it was over, as the players left through the side door, I peeked outside to see if Hack was even there and hoping that he at least got a glimpse of Joe and to my surprise this is what I saw. There were three people in my line of vision, my son-in-law, my grandson Hack, and Joe Flacco. Joe was on his knees, still in uniform, back to me, signing my grandson’s #5 jersey while he was still wearing it. I wish I had known ahead of time that moment would be there, because I would love to have taken a picture of it. It actually reminded me of the old Mean Joe Green commercial where he tosses that kid his jersey. I found out later that they didn’t even ask for Joe to stop. He saw them and came over to them. That means he remembered our conversation from the day before.
Now this is the point of this personal story. This is what it is all about. Many of you might not know this, but College Sporting News is a non-profit organization and all of us donate our time to bring this coverage to you. We do not get paid anything and as a matter of fact we are out of pocket on our travel expense. Why do we do it? Well, it is because of stories like this. We share the same love and passion for this sport at this level that the players do, that the coaches do, that you the fans do.
Two head coaches and Omar Cuff spending the time to autograph a ball for a kid, the CAA Director of Football Operations remembering about a request for my grandson from four months earlier, App State fans going way out of their way to supply my family with tickets, Joe Flacco, the day of a loss in a championship game and on his way to a certain NFL career, remembering a small request and taking the time to make a special moment for a father and son, these are all reasons why I do this. These are the reason why I spend thousands of hours doing this column.
Austin now has a ball in a case with a commemorative coin next to it, a memory and experience he will never forget. Hack now has a signed jersey in a frame, by the way that was the only way we could convince him to stop wearing it, and a commemorative coin next to it. And while I didn’t have my camera ready, those two “bookend” pictures of my grandsons in those special moments will be forever etched in my memory.
THE CAA TODAY SIGNING OFF
Hope you enjoyed the column and hope you enjoyed this year as much as I did. I know I enjoyed bringing to it to you. I can’t wait to see what next year brings. Don’t forget to email me your thoughts and comments. Happy Holidays to all of you and your families. See you next year.