Undersized, but speedy, Appalachian State sends a message to the big boys

Updated: September 2, 2007, 7:31 PM ET
Associated Press

BOONE, N.C. -- The black and gold T-shirts already on sale read: "Michigan Who? 34-32."

Appalachian State students and this mountain town's residents on Sunday were still basking in the glory of the Mountaineers' win over No. 5 Michigan a day earlier.

Toilet paper still hung from trees. Area business congratulated the team on their display boards. At least two bars were advertising they were going to show a replay of the game Sunday night.

And the rest of the nation was trying to figure out how so many speedy players ended up at this little-known school.

"Hopefully the whole world knows that just because we're called Division I-AA doesn't mean we can't play with the bigger school," quarterback Armanti Edwards said during a first-time, day after news conference that drew about 20 reporters and several TV crews. "The only thing different is that they were bigger than us. That's all it was."

Armanti, who was recruited by Clemson and several other big schools but only to play defensive back, is typical of coach Jerry Moore's team: Small, quick and unappreciated during recruiting.

"Just having a chip on our shoulder, going up there knowing we can play on their level, and show them why," said receiver Dexter Jackson, recruited by Georgia and Clemson but told he wouldn't play until he was an upperclassmen. "Show them that just because you're at that school doesn't mean we can't play with you."

When you enter this town in the Blue Ridge Mountains, a sign greets you announcing the Mountaineers' consecutive Division I-AA titles.

Yet, all anyone talked about in restaurants and convenience stores Sunday was Michigan.

"What we just did at Michigan, they've got to really, really bathe in it and enjoy and cherish the moment," Moore said. "I'm not about to rob our staff, our school, our town and particularly these players, to enjoy what they just did."

The win, the first time a Football Championship Subdivision team -- formerly I-AA -- beat a team ranked in The Associated Press Top 25, left many wondering how were the Mountaineers so fast. Why weren't these players recruited by the big boys of college football?

Mostly because they were considered too small. And Moore, in his 19th season, was more than happy to snatch them up.

"Size is probably our third factor to look at," said Moore, whose players come mostly from the Carolinas, Georgia and Tennessee. "We want good kids that are tough kids that can run. We feel we can put weight on them, make them bigger, make them stronger."

Moore has used his fast, quick offensive and defensive lines and undersized, speedy receivers to dominate the second tier of Division I. The Mountaineers have won a nation-best 15 straight games overall and 27 consecutive home games.

While college basketball sees its share of lower tier Division I teams beat the top dogs, it rarely happens in football. There is no equivalent to George Mason's run to the Final Four in 2006.

"It's a little more difficult finding 25 or 30 players, when you count special teams, than it is finding three (basketball players)," Moore said. "I think it's a little more difficult to put a football team out there and compete with the big schools."

Very few thought Appalachian State had a chance against Michigan. The Mountaineers lost to North Carolina State, Kansas and LSU by a combined 83-18 the past two seasons.

They also had 22 fewer scholarships than the Wolverines and used less than 40 players Saturday.

However, Moore's team of players the big schools didn't want pulled it off.

Safety Corey Lynch, who blocked Michigan's game-winning field goal attempt on the final play, didn't get one major scholarship offer.

"I went to an evangelical Christian high school," Lynch said. "So of course I can't play with the big schools because I'm from a small school."

The sense of accomplishment was apparent all over town Sunday. It started at 7:30 a.m. when a crew picked up the goal post left in Chancellor Kenneth Peacock's yard by fans a day earlier and brought it back to the stadium.

It seemed like every other resident was wearing some sort of Appalachian State gear. Two fans talking at lunch marveled at how the Mountaineers were able to beat the taller, heavier and highly recruited Wolverines.

Despite the outcome, the game obviously took its toll. There were many slow-moving players walking around the field house Sunday.

"It would be hard for us to go do that same thing again next week against, say Ohio State or LSU or Florida," said Moore. "Because we don't have the numbers."

So Moore scheduled Division II Lenoir-Rhyne for Saturday's home opener. A sellout crowd is expected anyway in this town going bonkers over their Mountaineers.

"It's still like I'm dreaming or something because, we just beat Michigan!" Edwards said. "I'm trying to sit here and think about it, but I really can't. It's like a dream."


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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