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CSN So South: Mountaineers Take Step One toward No. 4
By Myron Hosea, CSN So South Columnist
Playing in front of a smaller-than-normal crowd in cold, wet conditions, Appalachian State went airborne to overcome a stubborn South Carolina State team, 37-21 last Saturday.
The Mountaineers knew they were facing a stiff run defense in the Bulldogs but found holes in the secondary throughout the day. Quarterback Armanti Edwards threw for a school record 433 yards, completing 29 of 41 passes. He tossed four touchdown passes, two to Brian Quick, and one each to Ben Jorden and CoCo Hillary.
While participating in the school’s first playoff game since 1982, South Carolina State proved it belonged by twice taking the lead on the Mountaineers in the first half. Quarterback Malcolm Long teamed with tight end Octavius Darby for two first-half touchdown passes that gave the Bulldogs leads of 7-0 and 14-10, respectively.
“It was about the type of football game we expected,” Appalachian State coach Jerry Moore said. “We have a great respect for South Carolina State, and they came in and played about how we thought they would. They certainly played up the expectations we had for them.”
Appalachian State took the lead back shortly before halftime on Edwards’ touchdown pass to Hillary, moving the score to 17-14. Edwards ran two yards for a score in the third quarter that gave the Mountaineers a 24-14 advantage.
The Bulldogs used a blocked punt and a William Ford touchdown run to narrow the gap to 24-21 near the end of the third period. It appeared South Carolina State might have a grip on the momentum until Appalachian State went 75 yards on 12 plays to take a 31-21 lead. Edwards and wide receiver T.J. Courman combined for a key third-down play that swung the momentum back to the black and gold.
“The Edwards play was big because I thought we had them stopped,” said South Carolina State head coach Buddy Pough afterward. “He was scrambling, and then I looked back and he was throwing downfield. To me that was devastating because they went ahead and scored. We never really recovered from that.”
Edwards concurred that it was a big play. “In the first half, I had been dropping back too far in the pocket. I started to scramble, and the guy about had me. I saw T.J. coming back. I let it go and he made a great play on the ball. I think it was a turning point in the game because it took enough out of them that we were able to come down and score after that.”
Ford rushed for 117 yards and a score on 23 carries. … Dusten Dubose caught six passes for 59 yards while Darby finished with five catches for 68 yards. … Josh Jackson led the Mountaineers with 58 yards rushing, 49 of which came in the fourth quarter. … Appalachian State linebacker D.J. Smith led all tacklers with 16. … Ten players caught passes from Edwards. Jorden led the way with six catches. Quick and Hillary led in receiving yards with 95 and 94, respectively. Each made five catches.
Top-ranked James Madison Advances by Holding off Wofford
A year ago, James Madison came within a breath of upsetting top-ranked Appalachian State in a first-round playoff game on the road. This year, the Dukes came close to being the team upset, but they held on to defeat Wofford 38-35.
Twice, the Terriers fought back to tie the game, once after being down by 14 at halftime. James Madison, however, posted two fourth-quarter touchdowns – one with 3:21 left – to put the game out of reach. Mike Rucker’s 12-yard touchdown run with 1:02 remaining pulled Wofford to within the final margin, but the Dukes recovered an onside kick to secure victory.
All-conference runningback Dane Romero scored Wofford’s first four touchdowns and started the scoring with a two-yard run. That score ended a nine-play, 78-yard drive on the Terriers’ first possession.
The Dukes answered with touchdowns on each of their next two possessions. Eugene Holloman ran 34 yards for the first score. Then, with 23 seconds left in the first quarter, quarterback Rodney Landers threw 15 yards to Rockeed McCarter for the second touchdown.
Wofford coach Mike Ayers said Landers proved to be a difference in the game. He rushed 24 times for 166 yards and a touchdown. He completed 8-of-15 passes for 126 yards and three touchdowns.
The Terriers tied the score early in the second quarter when Romero took it in from 11 yards out. Landers threw touchdown passes of 27 yards to Bosco Williams and 23 yards to McCarter to give James Madison a 28-14 halftime advantage.
Romero’s 4-yard and 1-yard touchdown runs in the third quarter evened the score at 28-28. Dave Stannard hit a 24-yard field goal with 11:59 remaining to put the Dukes ahead 31-28. Landers then scored from the 6 late in the game for the 10-point advantage that Wofford couldn’t overcome.
Entering the game, Wofford (No. 2) and James Madison (No. 4) were among the top rushing teams in FCS. They combined for 644 yards on the ground (Wofford 301, James Madison 343). … Rucker led Wofford with 107 yards rushing. Quarterback Ben Widmyer added 98, Romero 87. … Holloman ran for 116 yards for the Dukes. … Rucker accumulated 206 all-purpose yards. … Wofford’s interception of Landers (by Tommy Irvin) was the game’s only turnover, and the teams combined for just seven penalties.
Wofford coach Mike Ayers: “I am proud of our kids, and I am proud of the way the coaches prepared them. When you look at that game, one play here, one play there – coat of paint difference between the two teams. Last year they shipped us out to Montana, and we won that one. This year they gave us the No. 1 team and we were right there, but we did not get the job done. I am proud of the seniors, and I thought they did an outstanding job as far as their leadership and the way that they conducted themselves. I am proud of our team.”
Games of Dec. 6 (All times are Eastern)
Richmond Spiders (10-3) at Appalachian State Mountaineers (11-2), Noon
The Richmond Spiders visit Boone, N.C., for a rematch of last year’s semifinal game that the Mountaineers won 55-35.
In that game, the Spiders scored 21 unanswered points from the end of the first half into the third quarter to tie the game at 35-35. Appalachian State, led by Armanti Edwards’ 313 yards rushing, scored the next 20 points for the victory.
Several key players from that Spiders team will be on hand Saturday afternoon to give it another try. Quarterback Eric Ward, who threw for 208 yards and ran for 79 more, tossed three touchdown passes. Wide receiver Kevin Grayson caught seven passes for 122 yards and two scores.
Six Richmond players earned spots on the Colonial Athletic Association first-team all-conference squad. They include RB Josh Vaughan (283 rushes, 1,503 yards, 16 touchdowns)
WR Kevin Grayson (51 receptions, 729 yards, 2 touchdowns)
OL Matthew McCracken
DL Lawrence Sidbury, Jr. (46 tackles, 16 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks)
LB Eric McBride (85 tackles, 6 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 1 interception)
CB Justin Rogers (41 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 6 interceptions – 2 for TDs)
This might be a classic matchup of a high-powered offense against a strong defense. While Richmond averages 33 points a game, it generates 367 yards per game. Appalachian State averages 39 points a game (No. 3 in the country) and averages 471 yards per game (No. 2 nationally).
The Spiders will counter the Mountaineer offense with one of the best defenses in FCS. They rank fifth nationally in total defense, surrendering just 251 yards a game. Even more impressive in this day of the wide-open offense is that the Spiders allow just 16 points per game. They allowed only 16 points in a loss to Virginia. The most points Richmond allowed came in a 38-31 loss to top-seed James Madison. The other loss came to another ranked CAA team, Villanova, 26-20.
As for common opponents, Appalachian State and Richmond lost to James Madison and defeated Elon.
The All-Conference Teams
It’s that time of the year. Conferences throughout the FCS are announcing their all-conference teams for the 2008 season. Last week, the Southern Conference announced two sets of all-conference teams, players of the year and coach of the year – one selected by league coaches, one by league media. The coaches also chose the inaugural “All-Freshman” team. The Big South Conference also announced its postseason awards, including first- and second-team all-conference. Seven Big South footballers were named to their academic all-conference team:
Justin Witzmann, Sr, DL, Charleston So.
Derrick Frasier, So, LB, Coastal Carolina
Daniel Cooke, Sr, DB, Gardner-Webb
Ryan Greiser, Sr, DB, Liberty
Antwan Thomas, Sr, LB, Presbyterian
Jeff Santos, Jr, OL, Stony Brook
Jacob Rochester, Sr, LB, VMI
* * *
News and Notes
* With their visit to Boone Saturday, the South Carolina State Bulldogs made their third appearance in the FCS playoffs. Their first two forays into the playoffs ended with second-round losses to that year’s eventual national champion – Idaho State in 1981 and Louisiana Tech in 1982.
* Appalachian State linebacker Pierre Banks has been a standout on the field for the last four seasons. He’s a standout in the classroom, too. While on a medical redshirt during his first season in Boone, Banks chose to pursue a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree. Now, after playing in 59 games (including 45 starts), Banks has earned a bachelor’s degree in communications and is in the last semester of his graduate course work.