A new trend is brewing at Appalachian. It swirled a bit thicker on Saturday when for the third time in as many quarterbacks, instant excitement popped up off the bench.
It occurred a handful of minutes into Appalachian’s home opening beatdown of James Madison, a contest pitting the 2005 I-AA king against its immediate predecessor. Mountaineer QB Trey Elder had to be scrapped off the field after a severe hit from JMU linebacker Phil Minafield. He needed time to gather his wits and limbs, so backup Armanti Edwards was called to action.
Edwards is a true freshman whose collegiate resume listed only a few meaningless snaps against NC State. Yet here he was thrust behind a line seven yards short of the end zone, staring at a defense picking jersey from its teeth and hearing 23,000 screaming for a score. First times are expected to be a bit more gentle. Rarely are they as satisfying.
With the flair of a pedestrian running for the bus, Edwards took the snap and ran the distance to the end zone. It was just that quick and just that easy. His maiden voyage within Kidd Brewer put six on the board and deja vu in the stands. We’d seen this play before.
It came midway through the last game in Boone. The I-AA semifinals. Appalachian versus Furman. It was then the biggest game in Appalachian history. Winner went to the National Championship game. Loser was just that.
Midway through the first quarter with App up 7, all-everything quarterback Richie Williams lost both his ankle and place in the ballgame.
Into the pressure cooker came Elder, a sophomore who last intense snap came in high school. Yet there were no nerves. Elder sent his first snap 45 yards downfield to Dexter Jackson for a 14-0 lead . By coincidence, his last snap of the game also went end zone, when Elder jumped both lines for the gamewinner.
That night is still fresh in many Mountaineer minds. Yet many may forget the time before that when an untested QB was forced onto the big stage. It came on the first day of the 2002 college season. August 31. Appalachian at Marshall. Just days before kickoff it was announced that senior Mountaineer quarterback Joe Burchette was out of action. He had back surgery scheduled for that Friday. In his place taking virgin snaps was the aforementioned Williams, the first freshman quarterback to start at Appalachian in 13 years.
Marshall opened with the ball, but quickly lost it. Mountaineer cornerback Erik Crutchfield popped the ball loose and Josh Jeffries recovered it at the MU 15. In came the Williams-led offense. No TD on his first snap. Nor his second. Facing his first third down, Williams recorded the first of his 9,370 career yards by running for 11 and a first down. The next play Williams handed to Brad Hoover and watched him go two yards for six. Thus endeth Williams’ first drive, with a 7-0 lead against a I-A powerhouse and former I-AA rival. (Of course it all went to pot in a 50-17 rout).
Williams went on to lead Appalachian to its first national championship and a new record book. Elder earned the confidence to calm post-Williams jitters. Now Edwards pops up, showing promise for the future. It’s going to be a fun football season, unless … can you say quarterback controversy?