When I-AA Appalachian lines up against any I-A school, one of three outcomes is possible:
1 – The game quickly becomes a blowout, with the Apps on the losing end of a long night (see regretfully Hawaii, Marshall, Wyoming)
2 – Appalachian hangs tough for three quarters, but tires out in the fourth and fades. (see simply Clemson, LSU, Auburn)
3 – We beat Wake Forest. (see the reason we’re no longer on that schedule)
Saturday night against NC State was the return of scenario No. 2. The defending I-AA National Champions were humbled by a ho-hum I-A. It wasn’t a blowout, yet it was a loss. No ribbons are awarded for playing close.
The Wolfpack defense was stingy and fast, allowing just seven first downs. It forced two drive-killing turnovers and a red-zone vomit (Mountaineer QB Trey Elder upchucked right when he was hiked the ball, ruining a potential TD opportunity. He had been pulverized after the last play). It was four quarters of red blurs.
Yet the I-AA hung tough, down 16-7 at the half and 23-10 after three. Both teams threw a shutout in the fourth. Afterwards NC State fans celebrated, waving their fingers at the reigning champs of the extra A. Their attitude quoteth The Rock, “Know your role and shut your mouth.” They better retire it before October 5.
App State fans took comfort in not whether we won or lost but how we played the game. We lost, but we didn’t lose badly. Take away the score (we wish) and the stat sheet was not entirely unkind. We recorded some nice numbers, especially with regard to the D.
The Mountaineer defense stole three fumbles and nabbed an interception. It limited State to 42 yards passing at a barely 50 percent completion rate (7-of-13). The Red completed only three of 12 third-down conversions and punted one fewer time than App (8 to 9). Marques Murrell was routinely doubleteamed and beat down, yet still stood well into the fourth quarter. Throw in the 37-pound average the App defensive line gave up to the State heavyweights, and those are some mighty fine numbers. Watch out SoCon.
Yet the offense was a no-go. It advanced 19 inches a snap. Elder connected on only four passes in 15 throws. One fourth of his completions and 66 percent of his yardage was captured nicly by Dexter Jackson, a 39-yard bomd which setup the App’s sole TD. Kevin Richardson gained that score, but not much else. He covered 25 yards in 14 carries, with the longest run 16.
One consolation for the offense is knowing all future foes this season will appear to run in quicksand. No way anyone in the SoCon outraces State’s D.
So Saturday was a good start, albeit it a depressing one. I was so hoping State would go the way of Wake. Yet it was an entertaining game. The calluses Appalachian earned knuckling against Kansas, LSU and the playoffs last season were re-enforced by the smashmouth football against State. Saturday we’re back on a level playing field, 63 scholarships to 63. The 2004 I-AA champion James Madison squares off against the 2005 I-AA champion Saturday. It’s then our turn to dish the pain.