Appalachian State Staggers Michigan
Over the remainder of the year, FanHouse will be covering the top sports stories of the decade. In this installment, Clay Travis looks at the most memorable college football game of the decade.
On September 1, 2007, opening day of the college football season, Appalachian State beat No. 5 Michigan, 34-32, in front of 109,218 in the Big House. It was an upset so profound most sporting books didn't even carry a line on the game.
I was in San Francisco on that day, gearing up for the Tennessee-California opener, when I began to see football fans cheering in front of tiny televisions in large sports bars. Because, you see, the Appalachian State-Michigan game was so far down the food chain of major college sports that most sports bars outside of the Midwest didn't even have the game featured. As the game progressed and Appalachian State continued to hang around, slowly, amazingly, we all became Appalachian State fans.
In fact, aren't games like these the reason we all became sports fans? We watch, on some fundamental level, because we hope that we might see something we've never seen before. Like a lower-division team that was paid $400,000 to travel to the Big House, the nation's largest football cathedral, to accept a paid pummeling. Only that didn't happen. And all sports are better for it. Come along down memory lane and let's recount the game of the decade in college football.
Two years later, some of the details of the Appalachian State win have probably faded from your memory. All I remember for sure is that this was the first game after I finally gave up my eternal hate for the Big Ten and agreed to support Michigan in the conference. I did so via buying Michigan apparel on a campus visit. The next Wolverine defeat was the biggest in the history of the program.
My wife does not believe this is a coincidence.
1. To begin, this wasn't your traditional upset where the upstart underdog comes out fired up, snags a lead, and then hangs on for the victory.
Nope. People forget this, but Michigan actually took the opening kickoff and scored a touchdown. Appalachian State scored on the next possession, a 68-yard touchdown strike on third down, but Michigan scored on their second possession as well to take a 14-7 lead as the first quarter ended.
While it wasn't the expected beat down, Wolverine fans in the stands could content themselves by arguing that the Mountaineers had made one big play on their touchdown drive.
While it might be closer than anticipated, surely this game was not going to be competitive, right?
2. It was in the second quarter, after the initial thrill of being competitive faded, that Appalachian State began delivering body blows to the mighty Wolverines.
It turned into the Armanti Edwards Show as the Mountaineer quarterback accounted for three touchdowns, two passing and one rushing.
Suddenly the Big House was astir with the feelings of impending doom, Michigan trailed, 28-14, and would enter the locker room behind, 28-17.
In the second quarter mighty Michigan was outscored, 21-3.
3. It was at this point that fans across the country became aware of Michigan's deficit.
Certainly it was when the news reached the left coast in California. Pac-10 and SEC fans began emerging from sports bars or staring down at their phones with a quizzical expression.
Surely that text that just arrived suggesting that Michigan was trailing a school named Appalachian State by two touchdowns had to be wrong, right?
There was just no way.
Around me, fans stormed bars in Berkeley demanding that the Appalachian State-Michigan game be put on one of the television screens. Most bars were unable to comply; it was the first game in Big Ten Network history and most bars weren't carrying the station yet.
4. All over the country people began thinking, "I didn't know Appalachian was a state."
5. The second half began as the second half always seems to begin when a favorite is down, with a rally.
Michigan kicked a field goal on its first drive, cutting the lead to 28-20. But Appalachian State responded with a field goal of its own to make the score, 31-20.
Then, disaster struck, Appalachian State clanked a kick off the uprights to end one drive and turned the ball over at its 31 to end another.
Michigan took possession and fans across the country, now rooting for Appalachian State with all their hearts, groaned.
The Wolverines scored a touchdown, but failed on their 2-point attempt. It was 31-26 at the end of the third quarter, and big, bad Michigan was leaning on the smaller conference team now, pounding them with running plays. Ultimately, the Wolverines would rush 40 times for 246 yards, an average of 6.1 per carry.
6. Surely, we all thought, now Michigan would take charge and pull away from their smaller conference foe.
And the Wolverines nearly did.
Suddenly Appalachian State's offense disappeared. Michigan took three consecutive possessions into Mountaineers territory. Two times the Wolverines came away with no points.
But then Mike Hart broke a 54-yard run and the Wolverines took their first lead since the first quarter. It was 32-31, Michigan.
On the Mountaineers' first offensive play after falling behind, Armanti Edwards threw an interception.
That did it, we all thought, the game was over.
7. Only it wasn't.
The Mountaineers blocked a Michigan field-goal attempt and with 1:37 left in the fourth quarter took possession at their 26.
And then magic happened, the reason we all watch sports.
Edwards rushed for 18 yards on first down. After a four-yard loss, Edwards strung together four consecutive completions. First for 20, then 6, 5, and a huge 24 to a wideout named, wait for it, CoCo Hillary.
Hillary barreled to the Michigan 7 and the Mountaineers, incredibly, had a first and goal from Michigan's 7. Here, Coach Jerry Moore, perhaps sensing the unbelievable was within his grasp, panicked a bit. Rather than run a play and milk the clock, App. State lined up for a 24-yard field goal attempt with less than 30 seconds remaining in the game.
On first down.
The Mountaineers banged the kick through and hushed the Big House.
It was 34-32 and the nation's cellular network overflowed with text messages and phone calls.
Were you watching?
Could you believe what you were seeing?
8. Only fate hadn't exacted her final toll on Wolverine fans, Michigan completed a 46-yard Hail Mary and rushed its field goal unit onto the field for a 37-yard, game-winning attempt.
Only it was blocked.
And if you close your eyes now you can probably still see that final play, watching Appalachian State's Cory Lynch running down the field, ball tightly cradled in his right arm, as the final seconds ticked off the clock and the most astounding upset of college football history unfolded right before our eyes.
Yes, that just happened.
9. Some final stats for you, Michigan had nearly 100 more total yards, less turnovers, and still lost.
Hart, Michigan's star senior tailback, averaged 8.2 yards per carry. Appalachian State had four first downs in the entire second half, none since early in the third quarter before that final drive.
One more final stat: Michigan had to pay Appalachian State $400,000, too.
That might be the worst bargain in the Great Lake State since General Motors was over $50 a share.
10. For Michigan fans, this was the game that sealed Lloyd Carr's fate.
By the end of the season he would be gone, replaced by Michigan's own Mountaineer, this one from West Virginia, Rich Rodriguez.
Michigan would go on to finish 9-4 under Carr. Since his departure the Wolverines are 8-16.
Appalachian State would go on to snag its third consecutive FCS title over Delaware. But not before both Wofford and Georgia Southern did something that Michigan could not, beat the mighty Mountaineers from Boone, North Carolina.
Under the same coach that beat Michigan, Jerry Moore, the Mountaineers are 22-6 in their past two seasons, both of which have ended in FCS playoff losses.
11. But that would be in the future. In the immediate aftermath of their win over Michigan, the Appalachian State Mountaineers did not want to look too far ahead,
Head coach Jerry Moore said his team couldn't celebrate too much because, "We've got Lenoir-Rhyne coming to our place."
They beat Lenoir-Rhyne, too.
Clay Travis is the author of three books. His latest, "On Rocky Top: A Front Row Seat to The End of an Era" chronicles the 2008 Tennessee football season and is on sale now and makes a easily wrap-able Christmas gift.