When Appalachian State coach Jerry Moore was told Michigan was interested in opening the 2007 season against his Mountaineers, he immediately was on board. Michigan was willing to pay $400,000, but Moore saw an “opportunity game” more than a money game.
The deal was struck. And the odds began to mount for the Mountaineers against a storied opponent with 22 more scholarships and an average advantage of 18 pounds a man. No team from the Football Championship Subdivision had ever defeated a ranked, bowl-subdivision team.
“Michigan was the No. 5 team in the nation, and (that program) had won more football games than any team in the history of college football,” Moore said recently.
But the Mountaineers rolled into Ann Arbor, Mich., with confidence, seven future NFL players and the No. 1 ranking in the FCS after winning back-to-back national championships
“We had a lot of swagger about us,” receiver Dexter Jackson said.
“No matter who we played, whether it was Lenoir-Rhyne or Michigan, we went to win,” safety Corey Lynch said. “We had a very talented team. But I think you could ask 100 people if they thought Appalachian would beat Michigan, not one would have said yes.”
Star quarterback Armanti Edwards said: “We were probably the only ones that believed.”
The Mountaineers focused on conditioning during preseason camp, which Moore said helped offset depth deficiency on a warm day. A game plan was tailored to fit both teams’ personnel. The Mountaineers would battle size with quickness and a fast-paced, no-huddle offense with option components.
“Just from watching the film leading up to the game, we already had a sense that they would have a hard time stopping the spread offense,” Edwards said. “They always had a hard time stopping Ohio State when they were spread out.”
Edwards, despite dealing with a knee sprain that had limited his practice time, said he felt ready.
Linebacker Cam Speer said before the game that Michigan might not be. “They probably don’t even know where Boone is,” he said. “We’ll try to take advantage of that and go in there and surprise some people.”
Moore impressed upon his players during a pregame walk-through at Michigan Stadium that they shouldn’t let the more than 100,000 fans dictate how they played.
“We didn’t worry about the fans,” Jackson said. “It was just 11 on 11.”
Running back Kevin Richardson said the Mountaineers weren’t in awe of a star-studded team that featured Mike Hart, Chad Henne, Jake Long and Mario Manningham.
‘Don’t mess it up’
Moore felt his team was as prepared as it could be and had one final talk with his players.
“This is awful, but the only thing I really told them was to not mess it up, that ‘we worked hard to get here, don’t mess it up,’ ” he said.
Michigan scored first, but Appalachian State quickly answered with a 68-yard touchdown pass from Edwards to Jackson, who said any jitters were gone after that. The Mountaineers went on to a 28-14 lead before halftime.
“I don’t think they knew what hit them until it was too late,” Jackson said.
Moore said the plan was to slow the game down if needed, to keep Michigan’s offense off the field as much as possible. But in the second half, with Appalachian State’s coaches sensing better conditioning, they were thinking speed up.
But, as had been the story in previous upset bids by FCS teams, the FBS team recovered. Michigan roared back and took a 32-31 lead with 4 minutes, 36 seconds left. Edwards was intercepted on the Mountaineers’ next play, and the upset attempt seemed doomed.
“Ninety-nine percent of the time the bigger school, the FBS guys, are going to win,” Lynch said. “I’ve watched FCS teams hang with FBS teams, maybe they’re up at halftime, and then you look back later in the fourth quarter, and the FBS team is up 40-20 or something. It happens a lot of times. I just think we were a different breed of team.”
Brian Quick blocked a Michigan field-goal attempt with 1:37 left, giving the Mountaineers hope. Edwards led a 69-yard drive that set up a 24-yard field goal by Julian Rauch with 26 seconds left, and the Mountaineers went ahead 34-32.
Michigan had one final shot to avert disaster after Henne completed a 46-yard pass to Manningham to set up a 37-yard field-goal attempt with six seconds left. But Lynch found a gap and blocked the kick.
Michigan fans sat in stunned silence.
One to remember
“I’ll never forget just how quiet the stadium was after Corey Lynch blocked the field goal,” Edwards said. “We had always heard how loud the stadium could get, and it was totally the opposite. …”
The Mountaineers rushed the field.
“It was surreal,” Jackson said.
Lynch said: “We knew we had really accomplished something big. Even though we had just won two national championships. … I remember coach Moore being so happy, and what a great feeling that was.”
Edwards said: “To me, it felt like we had won another national championship.”
Jackson got back to the locker room and grabbed his phone. He had more than 100 messages and 20 missed calls. The Mountaineers returned to Boone that night, and a welcoming crowd estimated at 6,000 lined the streets leading to Kidd Brewer Stadium.
During the week that followed, interview requests came from media outlets from New York to Los Angeles. Jackson made the cover of Sports Illustrated. Moore got mail for months requesting autographs on everything from pictures to shoelaces. Fans of Ohio State, Michigan’s rival, became instant Appalachian State fans.
“We had some big wins, but our guys will remember that one the rest of their lives,” Moore said. “It was just a great moment in college football history, I think.”