Hail to the victors
Best of the non-BCS schools.
By the time they were carrying small school coach Jerry Moore out of the Big House, owner of the greatest upset in college football history, the question was no longer whether little Appalachian State could compete with mighty Michigan.
It was now whether there would be enough whiskey back in Boone, N.C., to handle the celebration.
In a stunner for the ages, ASU, courtesy of a 34-32 come-from-behind thriller, became the first team from what was formerly known as Division I-AA to ever beat a ranked I-A team.
And this wasn't just any team they beat, either. No. 5 Michigan is an historic power boasting three Heisman Trophy candidates, national title dreams and playing in front of 109,000-plus fans in its cavernous home stadium.
In a testament to forever dreams and fearless players, Appalachian State used a final blocked kick to give every underdog everywhere proof of what is possible if you look past the perception and believe in yourself.
"Just God bless them," Moore said of his players in his thick Southern drawl. "It's a crowning achievement. They're a great bunch of kids and they have worked so hard."
This game was supposed to be the prime example of what had gone wrong in money hungry college football. The powers that be had expanded the season a couple years back, adding an extra game so big schools could bring in cream-puff opponents while collecting millions in revenue.
Michigan had never played a I-AA opponent in its history. Now we know why, the Wolverines were ducking them.
Instead of an easy tune-up for Michigan, Appalachian State leaves with its most profound victory ever and a check for $400,000 that was supposed to be their pay for getting punished.
If they name a mountain after Jerry Moore in Western North Carolina, it might not be enough.
For his part, the coach wouldn't put the victory above the Mountaineers' consecutive I-AA national championship victories but he smiled and said, "It'll rank in there."
Mostly, this was a testament to power of self-belief. It has become trite for teams to claim that no one picked them, that it is "us against the world." But for Appalachian State, it was true.
The game was expected to be such a mismatch Las Vegas sports books refused to offer a betting line.
Instead Appalachian State spent the last week doing two things, watching film and gaining faith.
First was noticing that Michigan's defense had a tendency to leave the middle of the field wide open.
"We hoped they would do that again," quarterback Amanti Edwards told the Michigan radio network. "And they did. Our offense already knew what we had to do."
Edwards repeatedly abused the Wolverines with quick, over-the-middle slant passes, racking up 226 yards and three touchdowns. That included a statement-making, 68-yard strike right down the middle to wideout Dexter Jackson. Edwards also ran for a score.
Second, the Mountaineers kept telling themselves that while Michigan might be the winningest program in major college history, the Wolverines were just college kids like them. The past is the past. This was about the future.
"Their players are like us," running back Kevin Richardson told the Detroit News before the game. "They have feet, put on shoes and strap on the pads just like we do."
Michigan's players might have all been high school stars and highly recruited from across America while App State's kids are largely overlooked, small-town Southerners. But once the ball was kicked, what did that matter?
"They played better than us today," Michigan All American candidate Jake Long said.
For Michigan and coach Lloyd Carr, who was already played to mixed feelings among the school's massive fan base, this loss was as crushing as it was embarrassing. There is simply no excuse for such an upset and Michigan's two turnovers, two kicks blocked, ill-timed penalties and defensive and offensive mistakes played a huge role here.
It is a result that will rock the program, renew calls for Carr to hang it up at season's end and snuff out any chance of a current assistant coach to step up and take over this vaunted power.
"I think it begins with being a prepared team," Carr told the Michigan radio network. "And that's my responsibility. I did not have the team prepared."
Ol’ Coach Moore sure did. Not just in terms of strength or scheme. This was mostly mental; proof that sports is more than just physical might. Appalachian State simply believed this was not only possible, but likely.
On three different occasions Michigan had the lead in this game, including what looked like a back-breaking 32-31 advantage late in the fourth quarter when Michigan's Mike Hart ran over, through and around an exhausted defense.
But Appalachian State never quit. Even trailing with less than two minutes left, they drove 69 yards without a timeout to kick a field goal and regain the lead. And when Michigan had a chip-shot field goal to win the game with six seconds left, and the dream looked doused, the Mountaineers’ surging defense blocked it.
The incredible play set off a mid-field celebration in Ann Arbor for the ages. Back down in Boone – and by underdogs everywhere – it will be toasted, forever.