Requests for autographed photos have slowed but not stopped. Never stopped. Too many people still demand a piece of history, tangible evidence that the greatest upset in college football history was real.
Jerry Moore knows this passionate plea immediately when he’s handed a picture and a Sharpie. One of the most popular memorabilia items around Boone, N.C., is a photo of a last-second blocked field goal that rocketed Appalachian State football into the stratosphere. Moore, the Mountaineers’ 24th-year coach, simply writes the date as a reminder: “9-1-07.”
Nearly five years have passed since Appalachian State shocked the nation with a 34-32 victory against fifth-ranked Michigan in Ann Arbor. And folks in Boone, the school’s hometown, still hold on to that feeling 1,811 days later.
“People here don’t realize that,” Moore said. “They think it happened yesterday.”
Moore spoke during a conference call with reporters Thursday morning to commemorate the upcoming five-year anniversary of the victory. Although Moore has won 207 ballgames and three Division I-AA/Football Championship Subdivision national titles at Appalachian State, he understands why the No. 1 topic remains a non-conference regular-season game played a half-decade ago.
“This has been one of the questions I get asked a lot,” Moore said. “Which means more: a national championship or beating Michigan? It’s kind of a double-edged sword. They both are huge. You play to win the championship, but you can’t forget what a great day that was in Michigan.”
Appalachian State entered the 2007 season opener on a 14-game winning streak after capturing its second straight FCS national championship the year before. But Las Vegas oddsmakers pegged Michigan as three-touchdown favorites. Despite being a talented football team, Appalachian State had never accomplished a feat of this magnitude.
In fact, no FCS team ever had. Since 1978, when the NCAA began classifying separate divisions, zero FCS schools had beaten a FBS team ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 poll.
The task was particularly daunting because Michigan’s stadium, better known as “The Big House,” drew 109,218 fans that day. The population of Boone was about 17,000, or roughly one-sixth the size of the crowd. Michigan also entered the game as the winningest program in college football with 860 victories.
No big deal, right?
“Fear is a great motivator,” Moore said. “We were in as good of condition going into the game I think as we could have been.”
Moore said his team’s objective was to slow the tempo early in the contest, in part to avoid fatiguing his own players. Moore used just 27 players during the entire game on offense and defense.
“That’s all the depth that we really had that could match up against them,” he said. “We just didn’t have twos that could go out there. The way the game went, they had their ones in there all the time.”
For good reason.
Appalachian State didn’t just stay within striking distance — the Mountaineers took their first lead of the game with 9:47 remaining in the second quarter. Quarterback Armanti Edwards hit receiver Dexter Jackson for a 20-yard touchdown that gave Appalachian State a 21-14 edge. Michigan played from behind for the next two quarters.
The Wolverines finally regained a 32-31 lead with 4:36 left in the fourth quarter on Mike Hart’s 54-yard touchdown run. But Appalachian State drove the field without a timeout, and kicker Julian Rauch drilled a 24-yard field goal with 26 seconds remaining to put the Mountaineers ahead, 34-32.
Faced with one last-gasp opportunity, Michigan quarterback Chad Henne completed a 46-yard pass to wide receiver Mario Manningham with six seconds remaining. The play set up a 37-yard field goal attempt for kicker Jason Gingell to win the game.
Instead, Appalachian State’s Corey Lynch broke through the left side of Michigan’s line to block the kick as time expired, securing a monumental victory and a photograph etched into Mountaineer fans’ lore for years to come.
Players carried Moore off the field that day.
“We worked so hard on the kicking game, special teams,” Moore said. “There’s no telling how many balls Corey Lynch blocked in practice. … It’s just that old cliché. Whatever you work on, that’s what you’re going to be pretty good at.”
In the aftermath of the victory, Moore and the Mountaineers became instant celebrities, while Michigan became the first top-five team to drop out of the top 25 following an opening-week loss.
Appalachian State flew to Junction City, Tenn., and rode a bus back to campus that night. With the team about a half-mile from the stadium at 2 a.m., townspeople and students gathered to run alongside the bus, rocking it all the way to its destination. T-shirts commemorating the victory sold out within hours around Boone, and newspaper and national television outlets were clamoring for a piece of the story.
“We’re not a big media center here,” Moore said. “We’re up in the mountains. We only get a paper here three days a week. I think we handled it OK.”
For Appalachian State as an institution, Moore said the victory represented a turning point. The school received a $400,000 check for agreeing to play the game, but even more visibility in donations, merchandise and student applications.
He noted that 17,000 applicants were turned away one year — more than the entire student population at the time — in no small part as a result of the Michigan game.
Can Appalachian State ever replicate its magical victory? An inquiring public will soon find out.
Michigan and Appalachian State have agreed to play again at the Big House in 2014. This time, Appalachian State will receive $850,000 for its appearance.
“I would expect it to be the same tradition, the same Michigan atmosphere as it was when we were there in ’07,” Moore said. “It’s a great place to go play.”
And, Moore admits, an even better place to go win.