Appalachian State History Against Top-Ranked Teams
It was the first weekend of the college football season. The Michigan Wolverines, perennial Big Ten contenders, ranked in the top-10 in the country, packed in upwards of one hundred thousand fans to host Appalachian State.
Despite their conference championship the previous year, Vegas oddsmakers weren’t giving Appalachian State a chance and neither was anybody else.
No, this isn’t a description what will presumably be the scene in Beaver Stadium on Saturday when No. 10 Penn State kicks off its 2018 season against the Mountaineers. This is what happened in 2007 in the Ann Arbor, when Michigan fell to the underdog Mountaineers 34-31, knocking them down from No. 5 in the nation all the way out of the top-25.
The Mountaineers jumped out to a 28-17 lead at halftime. The Wolverines came back in the second half with some gritty Big Ten football, including two rushing touchdowns from senior running back Mike Hart. They snatched back a 32-31 edge with 4:36 left in the fourth.
The underdogs weren’t done though. Appalachian State marched the ball 69 yards to the Michigan five yard line for a field goal by senior kicker Julian Rauch. They led 34-32 with just 21 seconds remaining.
Michigan had one more chance, and senior quarterback Chad Henne and junior wide receiver Mario Manningham, both future NFL mainstays, capitalized. Henne lobbed a 46-yard rainbow that Manningham caught on the sideline to set up a 34-yard field goal attempt for the win, but Appalachian State senior safety Corey Lynch blocked it, sealing the upset.
In that game the Mountaineers became the first ever FCS team to beat a nationally ranked FBS opponent, earned an appearance on the cover of Sports Illustrated the next week and created a piece of football history.
Appalachian State is a proud football school with a winning culture. In their time in the FCS, the Mountaineers racked up 12 Southern Conference championships between 1986 and 2012, most of them on the back of head coach Jerry Moore. He’s now enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame.
After Moore stepped down, the Mountaineers made the step up from the FCS to the FBS and joined the Sun Belt Conference starting in 2014. They’re now back-to-back champions of that conference and are riding their third-straight bowl win into the 2018 season. Only Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Wisconsin have better FBS records over their past 45 games.
To be clear, the Mountaineers usually lose to their powerhouse opponents. Recently they’ve been blown out by Georgia, Clemson, Michigan and others, but in 2016 they almost repeated the 2007 magic in their season opener against No. 9 Tennessee.
Just like the Michigan game, the Mountaineers came out swinging and held a 13-3 lead at halftime. A Volunteers field goal in the third quarter and a 67-yard touchdown from senior quarterback Joshua Dobbs to junior wideout Josh Malone in the fourth sent the game to overtime.
On the first drive of the extra period, Dobbs fumbled the ball on a big hit at the goal line, but it was recovered in the end zone by junior running back Jalen Hurd for a touchdown. The Mountaineers couldn’t answer, missing their chance at a second historic upset in a decade.
Even as recently at 2017, Appalachian State held its own against the Georgia Bulldogs, despite eventually falling by a final score of 31-10.
The Nittany Lions are 24-point favorites against the Mountaineers on Saturday. It will probably be a blowout and the first of likely ten or more wins for Penn State in 2018. But the Mountaineers’ reputation proceeds them.
Tyler Olson is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism and political science. To contact him, email email@example.com.