Appalachian State recalls day it shocked Michigan and America
It was the mother of all upsets. The day the cupcake came into Ann Arbor and bit the giant. Appalachian State players recall the Saturday when the Mountaineers shocked Michigan.
The scoreboard says it all.
Leon Halip / Getty Images North America
By Sam Gardner
There are only so many ways in which a win against Furman could possibly serve as a blueprint for a victory over Michigan in Ann Arbor.
For former Appalachian State defensive back Corey Lynch, the biggest play of arguably the most stunning upset in the history of college football was simply a matter of repeating against the Wolverines what had worked to perfection against the Paladins the season before.
The date was Sept. 1, 2007, and Lynch and the Mountaineers, then the two-time defending FCS champions, were at the Big House for what most outside of Boone, N.C., probably considered to be the stereotypical “paycheck game” — a cool $400,000 in exchange for a lesson and a whooping at the hands of the No. 5-ranked Wolverines.
It didn’t take long, however, for Appalachian State to prove not only that it belonged, but that it had the chops to win, and with six seconds left in the fourth quarter, the Mountaineers were clinging to an unexpected 34-32 lead as Michigan kicker Jason Gingell lined up for a potential, 37-yard, game-winning, field goal.
Ninety seconds earlier, Gingell had a 43-yard attempt blocked by a leaping Brian Quick, and Lynch, who finished his career with six blocked kicks, had been looking to exploit a gap between the wing and the end to Gingell’s left side.
On that closing play, Lynch finally decided to go for broke, using his block of a 31-yard field goal the previous season against Furman as a model — a risk that worked to perfection and stunned the announced crowd of more than 109,000.
“The wing was definitely not doing a good job staying in and blocking down — he was trying to block out to the end man — and the previous year we had blocked a kick that was an exact replica of the Michigan block,” Lynch told FOX Sports this week. “We just kind of said, ‘Let’s block it like we did in Furman,’ and it turned out the same way it did the previous year.”
Well, almost the same way.
In the Furman game, Lynch returned his own blocked kick 79 yards to give Appalachian State a 14-7 lead in what would later become a 40-7 rout. Against Michigan, Lynch scooped up the ball after his block, but was tackled short of the goal line by Gingell. The missed opportunity -- and the chasedown by the kicker -- however, are a minor footnote in the biggest play of Lynch’s career.
“Looking back, I wish I would have just run it to the big ‘M’ in the middle of the field and taken a knee, but being a competitor, when you have the ball in your hand, you’ve got to score,” Lynch said. “That’s just what you do. So it was just natural to block it because I had practiced it so much and it was natural to try to score because I had done that, also.
Looking back, I wish I would have just run it to the big ‘M’ in the middle of the field and taken a knee, but being a competitor, when you have the ball in your hand, you’ve got to score.
“You always get crap for getting caught, but I always tell people that I couldn’t have even played one more play,” he added. “I was completely exhausted and I’ve never been that exhausted again in my life. I really, truly gave it all I could.”
For most, Lynch’s game-saving play is the defining moment of the upset, which has made its way back into the spotlight this week as the Mountaineers and Wolverines prepare to play Saturday at Michigan Stadium. There were several outstanding performances at work as Appalachian State overcame incredible odds — Vegas had it as 33-point underdogs coming in — to top the Big Ten power and BCS title contender.
Going into the game, former Appalachian State coach Jerry Moore painted the matchup not as a “money game,” as he calls it, but as an opportunity to do something special in a meeting that had only been on the books for six months. And from the moment the team could begin preparing for the Wolverines, Michigan was all that was on anyone’s mind.
“I said, ‘We’ll never play them again,’” Moore recalled in a conference call earlier this month. “‘We’ll go there one time and it’s a great opportunity for this school and a great opportunity for you guys and the staff to do something that you’ll remember for the rest of your life.’
“... The concentration level (in the final practice before the game) said that while we might not win, we’re going to be ready to play and play hard,” he added. “And — this is awful — about the only thing I told them was, ‘Don’t mess it up.’ We’d worked hard to get here, so don’t mess it up.”
After falling behind early on a Mike Hart touchdown run, Appalachian State tied the game with a 68-yard touchdown on a swing pass from Armanti Edwards to Dexter Jackson. The score was one of two touchdowns on the day for Jackson, who led the Mountaineers’ spread attack with 92 yards receiving.
“I knew it was pretty big after I scored the first touchdown,” Jackson said in a recent conference call. “Hans (Batichon) ran up to me and was like, ‘Man, you just scored on Michigan.’ At that moment in time, I knew that everybody was going to settle down, get the jitters out of us and play, just play like we always did at App and give it our best.”
Jackson’s touchdown would open the floodgates for the Appalachian State offense, which scored 21 points in the second quarter to take a 28-17 lead into the half that, at that point, seemed insurmountable.
“Looking at their sideline, right before the half, when I lined up on their side just looking at their guys, it was just like, ‘Oh my God, these guys are really playing with us,’” Jackson said. “They were not happy. They weren’t talking, slapping hands — it was like the whole coaching staff, whole team, was like, ‘Are we really going to lose to these guys?’ That right there, I was telling Armanti, ‘These guys cannot play with us.’”
Michigan didn’t go quietly, though, and after the shock wore off and Appalachian State kicker Julian Rauch hit the right upright with a 46-yard third-quarter field goal would have given the Mountaineers a 34-20 lead, the Wolverines responded with two more Hart touchdown runs to give themselves a 32-31 advantage with 4:46 left in the game.
“You can’t flip that switch,” Moore said of Michigan prior to the Wolverines rally. “You can’t go out there for a 1:00 kickoff, and at two minutes to 1:00, you say, ‘Hey man, we’re going to get ready and we’re going to do this, this and this.’ That switch has got to be flipped back in the spring and in the summer, when camp starts, and that would be the only negative thing I would say about Michigan, that they didn’t take us seriously enough, because they were really a good football team.”
Had it been a five-quarter game, the prevailing thought is that Michigan would have ended up winning, and perhaps handily. The Wolverines were bigger and stronger and deeper, and the App State sideline was gassed. But the Mountaineers had enough left in the tank to orchestrate a 69-yard drive in just over a minute, giving Rauch a shot at redemption — and a chance to make history — from 24 yards out with 26 seconds to go.
“The main one people ask me is, ‘How nervous were you?’” Rauch told FOX Sports this week. “I was still a little bit upset about the missed 46-yarder off the upright, and at that point, you just want to redeem yourself. You just want to get out there and show you can do it and get another opportunity to kick and help your team.
Appalachian State fan knew they weren't a cupcake.
Leon Halip / Getty Images North America
“... Of course, all kickers want that 50-yard game-winner against a big team, so that’s kind of what I was prepping for, not realizing or knowing that we’d get down where we did. But the closer we got, I almost thought, the more difficult the kick would be, because the expectations of success go up. You better not miss, the closer you get.”
Rauch, of course, would go on to make his kick, and after Lynch’s block, the Mountaineers were finally able to celebrate a history-making win that no one could have seen coming.
“It was crazy,” Jackson said. “We all just rushed the field and time expired and we realized we really beat Michigan. It was just great, the whole team ran out and did a big pileup. It was just surreal. When we got back a lot of people had a lot of phone calls, and when we got back to Boone, our bus was being rocked by the fans and all the local support. It was definitely a time that we will never forget.”
Appalachian State — which followed up its win over Michigan with a game against comically undermatched Division II Lenoir-Rhyne — would go on to win their third consecutive FCS championship that season despite losses to Wofford and Georgia Southern, but the program has fallen on harder times of late.
After firing Moore in 2012 after back-to-back 8-4 campaigns, the Mountaineers went 4-8 last year in their first season under coach Scott Satterfield. Accordingly, most Vegas oddsmakers have Appalachian State as a five-touchdown underdog heading into Saturday’s game — a rematch some argued the Mountaineers should have never accepted — but in any case, their old coach and some of the stars from the last improbable win know better than to rule anything out.
“I would love for them to have only played them once, just to keep our tradition going, if (they) were to lose,” Jackson said. “But I’m backing my school 100 percent regardless of what they decide to do.”
Added Moore: “Going 1-0 against Michigan is pretty good in your press guide. And it may be 2-0 — who knows?”