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CSN So South: Late Rally Keeps Mountaineers on Playoff Road
By Myron Hosea, CSN So South Columnist
When it rolled to its historic title run from 2005 through 2007, Appalachian State made the most of its home confines, winning nine games at the Rock to punch a ticket to Chattanooga for each of those titles. It wasn’t unusual in those games for the Mountaineers to create some kind of classic play to spur on the victory.
Late in Saturday night’s quarterfinal playoff game at Richmond, it appeared the defending champion Spiders had pulled off their own classic play at home to end the Mountaineers’ season once again.
Quarterback Armanti Edwards and his Appalachian State teammates pulled off another magical ending, however, scoring the winning points with 10 seconds remaining to defeat Richmond 35-31.
Saturday’s contest lived up to the expectations of a third-straight playoff encounter between the schools that won the last two FCS titles – past four, actually. Why wouldn’t you want such a contest to come down to the final moments?
Both teams scored on their first offensive possessions. Richmond got the first one, a two-yard scoring run by Ben Keating.
Appalachian State answered when Edwards ran 16 yards for the touchdown, but the Mountaineers produced little offense the rest of the half. Two possessions ended on downs, the other three on punts.
The Spiders managed only one other scoring drive in the first half. Quarterback Eric Ward hit Tre Gray on a 19-yard pass for that touchdown.
Appalachian State started the second half with a successful drive. Runningback Devon Moore scored on a five-yard run to tie the game. Later in the third, Richmond went back ahead on Kendall Gaskins’ one-yard touchdown run.
Thirty-one of the game’s 64 points occurred during the fourth quarter. Richmond started the burst on Andrew Howard’s 27-yard field goal, giving the Spiders a 24-14 lead with 9:23 remaining.
At that point, the Mountaineers had generated the two scoring drives and not much else. They began heating up quickly, needing less than a minute and just three plays to cut the lead back to three. Edwards hit Matt Cline for 32 yards and then B. J. Frazier for 27. Moore scored from the five on the next play.
Following a Richmond punt, Appalachian State turned to Moore to take its first lead of the game. The junior runningback carried the first three plays of the drive, picking up a total of 48 yards. Devin Radford ran once for three yards before Moore came out to run four straight times for 19 more yards. Edwards capped the drive with a three-yard touchdown run and a 28-24 lead with 4:27 left.
An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against Appalachian State forced the Mountaineers to kick off from their 15. With Justin Rogers’ 22-yard return, the Spiders had good field position at their 42. They couldn’t move, however, and punted. Travaris Cadet took the punt, but Richmond linebacker Eric McBride took the ball – right out of Cadet’s arms. McBride sprinted into the end zone, and with 3:26 to go in the game, the Spiders led 31-28.
Soon, the Mountaineers found themselves with a second and 20 at their 20. Edwards threw 13 yards to Brian Quick and then hit Quick again for 15 more yards and a first down. A run, a couple of completions and a Richmond penalty moved Appalachian State inside the Richmond 20. On second and 11 at the Richmond 19, Edwards ran for nine yards. Moore got the two for a first down on the next play. Edwards ran twice for a total of four yards to the Richmond four. After a timeout, he found Cline just inside the end zone for the winning touchdown pass.
Not counting the title games in Chattanooga, this contest marked Appalachian State’s first playoff road victory since beating Western Kentucky 17-14 in Bowling Green, KY, in 2000, the week before that loss to Montana. The Mountaineers made only one other playoff road trip in the early rounds since then, losing at Georgia Southern in 2001’s quarterfinal round.
Moore ran for 175 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries. Edwards added 51 yards on the ground while completing 21 of 33 passes for 216 yards. He ran for two scores and threw for another. Cline caught nine passes for 87 yards. Linebackers Jacque Roman and D. J. Smith made 10 tackles each.
Ward hit 17 of 31 pass attempts for 202 yards and a score. He also ran 51 yards. Gray grabbed five passes for 91 yards and a score. Patrick Weldon led Richmond’s defense with 13 total tackles.
DIVISION I CHAMPIONSHIP SEMIFINAL COMING UP
Saturday, Dec. 12, 4 p.m.
Appalachian State (11-2) at Montana (13-0)
Two of the most storied FCS playoff participants will meet for just the second time Saturday when Appalachian State travels to Missoula to face top seed and unbeaten Montana.
That one meeting also occurred in the semifinal round of the playoffs. The Mountaineers visited the Grizzlies on Dec. 9, 2000 and lost 19-16 in overtime. Montana dropped a 27-25 decision to Georgia Southern the next week in the championship game.
This year, Montana overcame a huge deficit in the opening round to defeat South Dakota State 61-48 and then used an amazing run of first-half takeaways to roll over Stephen F. Austin 51-0. Appalachian State edged South Carolina State 20-13 in the first round before winning 35-31 at Richmond.
Both teams can score points as evidenced by their rankings: Montana is No. 1 in scoring offense, Appalachian State seventh. Here’s a thumbnail review of how they compare in national rankings statistically (per game average with FCS rank in parenthesis).
Appalachian State Montana Rushing offense 211.2 (10) 163.9 (30) Passing offense 251.4 (16) 267.8 (14) Total offense 462.6 (3) 431.8 (8) Scoring offense 34.5 (7) 37.8 (1) Rushing defense 129.7 (41) 87.3 (8) Passing defense 185.5 (45) 247.8 (104) Total defense 314.2 (34) 335.2 (50) Scoring defense 22.2 (50) 18.8 (19)
The game also will feature two of the nation’s better runningbacks. Devon Moore leads the Appalachian State ground game with 99 yards a game, 11th-best in the nation. Montana runningback Chase Reynolds averaged 96 yards a game, 16th nationally, and is second in FCS in scoring at 10.2 points a game. Mountaineer quarterback Armanti Edwards is close behind in scoring at No. 4, averaging 9.8 points a game. Edwards is fourth nationally in total offense with 324 yards a game while Grizzlies wide receiver Marc Mariani in 11th in all-purpose yardage at 151 yards a game.
Each team brings an individual or team expertise that the other can counter. And we can’t really play the “one team has playoff experience” card since the teams have combined for five FCS national championships since 1995. This one bears the mantle of a classic matchup.