Tom Sorensen

Sorensen Classic: Was Appalachian State’s upset of Michigan big? Here’s just how big.

Appalachian State head coach Jerry Moore is lifted on the shoulder of his players moments after a 34-32 upset win over Michigan at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Mich., on Saturday, September 1, 2007.
Appalachian State head coach Jerry Moore is lifted on the shoulder of his players moments after a 34-32 upset win over Michigan at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Mich., on Saturday, September 1, 2007. MCT

Editor’s note: This column originally published on Sept. 3, 2007.

Here’s how big the upset was: You remember where you were when you heard that Appalachian State beat Michigan.

Maybe you were in a sports bar, maybe you were huddled next to a radio and maybe you were walking down the street and a Mountaineers fan shouted the score from the window of a passing car.

I was in the press box at Virginia Tech. Corey Lynch was on Michigan’s 18.

A two-time all-America defensive back, Lynch had two dreams: appear on ESPN’s “SportsCenter,” and preserve an ASU victory by blocking a kick.

“I was ready all game,” Lynch says by telephone early Sunday afternoon. “I had a punt block earlier that I swear I missed by the hairs on my arm and I was kind of mad about that.”

You know the details that preceded the block. ASU leads 34-32. Six seconds remain. The Wolverines line up for the 37-yard field goal that will win the game and preserve the natural order. The natural order is that the Big Ten school playing in the stadium called the Big House beats the impudent intruders from Boone.

Lynch lines up inside the outsider rusher, swoops in from the right and, as planned, stuffs the kick.

“The ball hit me in the chest and I grabbed it and started to cramp up, “ says Lynch, a senior from Cape Coral, Fla. “I just wanted to score in the Big House and put us up 40-32.”

He looked at nothing but the end zone. But the cramps got to him and, at the Michigan 18, so did the Wolverines.

Although Lynch is an excellent student, he hadn’t realized the enormity of what he had done. The block enabled the Mountaineers to beat the country’s fifth-ranked team in front of 109,218 fans.

Perhaps 5,000 of them pulled for the visitors, among them Lynch’s father, Brian, mother, Linda, and fiancee, Cissie Graham.

Looking for an upset as startling as this one, some writers and broadcasters have invoked Buster Douglas’ defeat of then-unbeatable Mike Tyson.

Lynch did his Tyson imitation when time expired, staying on the ground long enough to be counted out. His teammates made sure of it.

“First, one jumped on me and then three jumped on me and then five jumped on me and with all that weight I couldn’t breathe and I thought I was going to die,” Lynch says.

“Then when I got my air back, I realized what we had done. It was just the best feeling laying on that ground and knowing that we had just beat Michigan. You never thought it was out of our grasp. But just the reality – I can’t explain.”

Finally Lynch sat up on the field and watched the fans walk quietly out of the famous stadium.

“That’s where college football lives, places like Ohio State, Florida and Michigan,” he says. “I never imagined playing in a stadium like that.”

You want Ohio State? You want Florida?

“We play Florida in 2010, but I will have graduated,” Lynch says.

He grew up wanting Florida. He wanted to play for the Gators. Although he rushed for 3,000 yards and intercepted 31 passes at Evangelical Christian, the big schools did not consider his competition worthy.

Appalachian State discovered him at a Florida all-star game and even before the big play at the Big House, Lynch had had a superb career.

But it has never been like this: Cars honking constantly as the ASU bus made the 60-mile drive from the airport in Johnson City, Tenn., to Boone Saturday night; students waiting when the bus pulled up to the stadium; Appalachian State suddenly becoming less a school than a cause.

Lynch woke up Sunday after five hours of sleep.

How did you feel?

“Blissful,” he says.

He soon realized his second dream. His interview led off the 10:30 a.m. edition of “SportsCenter.”

Despite the attention, Lynch has yet to appreciate the magnitude of what he and his teammates accomplished. He knows they won, of course. But he finds himself replaying the game, not on a TV set but in his mind.

“Doing the unthinkable is hard to grasp, “ he says.

Tom Sorensen is a retired Charlotte Observer columnist. Sign up for his newsletter, and follow him on Twitter: @tomsorensen

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