CHATTANOOGA, Tennessee -- Everywhere Appalachian State football coach Jerry Moore went this summer in Boone, North Carolina, people would greet him with a three-finger wave.
The symbol, which looks similar to the traditional "okay" sign, represented the community's expectation of the Mountaineers repeating as NCAA titlist in the Football Championship Subdivision. It did not seem to matter to the Appalachian State fans that their thirst for a third straight national championship at this level of football had never been accomplished before.
After Appalachian State pulled off a stunning upset of then-fifth ranked Michigan in front of 100,000-plus fans in Ann Arbor September 1, the pressure to win another FCS crown only intensified.
The Mountaineers fulfilled that goal by grabbing a convincing 49-21 win over Delaware in the FCS title game December 14. A standing-room-only record crowd of 23,010 packed Chattanooga's Finley Stadium to witness history. Thousands of those in attendance ended up on the field to celebrate with the football team for a third consecutive year.
"I can’t tell you what a relief it is being able to three-peat," said Moore, whose team overcame injuries, two regular-season losses and two close calls in the playoffs to finish 13-2. "It is over. About midway through the season, I wasn't so sure what they were going to do with all those fingers. It's been a great run with a bunch of great kids."
Appalachian State's black-and-gold-clad fanbase composed most of the crowd, and the atmosphere in the stadium remained festive throughout as the Mountaineers showed why they are the standard to which all others are compared at the FCS level.
Sophomore quarterback Armanti Edwards threw for three touchdowns and senior tailback Kevin Richardson capped a stellar career by scoring three times -- twice on receptions-- to lead the Appalachian State offense. The Mountaineers amassed 556 yards of total offense.
Edwards, the catalyst to Appalachian State's spread offense, began the season by dazzling college football fans with his passing and running abilities against Michigan. Those same skills were on display in the FCS championship game.
After forcing the Blue Hens (11-4) to punt after three plays on the game's opening possession, the Mountaineers marched 58 yards in six plays to take a 7-0 lead. Edwards and Richardson capped the drive by connection on a 19-yard screen pass for the score.
The turning point of the game began on Delaware's next possession. The Blue Hens drove 70 yards and appeared to have tied the score when Omar Cuff was tackled near the goal line on second-and-goal from the 4. The on-field officials ruled it a touchdown, but the play was overturned by the replay official after seeing that Cuff's elbow hit the ground just before he broke the plane of the goal line.
Cuff was stuffed at the 1-yard line on third down, and senior quarterback Joe Flacco threw an incomplete pass on fourth down. Delaware coach K.C. Keeler decided against a chip-shot field goal attempt, because he figured field goals wouldn’t be enough to beat Appalachian State.
"We had to go by sevens, because their offense was as good as advertised," Keeler said.
The Mountaineers used the momentum and drove 99 yards in a minute and 26 seconds to make the score 14-0. It only took five plays plus a 15-yard facemask penalty for Appalachian State to score. Reserve running back Devon Moore ended the quick-strike drive by going untouched up the middle on a 46-yard touchdown run.
Murphy's Law kept tapping Delaware on the shoulder as it fell behind, 21-0, despite making Richardson fumble near the goal line. Appalachian State freshman tight end Daniel Kilgore recovered the ball in the end zone. The Blue Hens, who gained 432 yards, managed to cut the deficit to 14 points after Flacco threw a 39-yard scoring pass to Mark Duncan with 1:10 left in the first half.
Any momentum gained was quickly taken away by Appalachian State 21 seconds later. Edwards drove the Mountaineers 72 yards in two plays by completing two passes, the last of which was a 60-yard score to Dexter Jackson.
'We had to be disciplined and some of our miscues cost us,' said Delaware defensive lineman Jeremy Kametz, whose team trailed, 28-7, at halftime. 'Their offense was speedy.'
In the second half, the Mountaineers increased their advantage after Richardson caught an eight-yard scoring pass from Edwards.
Cuff cut the lead to 35-14 by scoring on a 1-yard run with :54 seconds remaining in the third quarter. It was Cuff's FCS-record 39th touchdown of the season.
That was as close as the Blue Hens, who defeated top-seeded Northern Iowa 37-29 and fourth-seeded Southern Illinois 20-17 on the road just to reach the finals, would climb to Appalachian State the rest of the way.
All during the season, Moore and his student-athletes told everyone who would listen that winning the FCS title was more important to them than beating Michigan.
"Beating Michigan didn't put a ring on my finger," said Edwards, who was 49-of-71 passing for 722 yards, seven touchdowns and no interceptions in four postseason games. He also scored eight rushing TDs while producing 1,382 yards of total offense in the playoffs.
Appalachian State almost didn't make it to the title after escaping with a 28-27 win over James Madison in the first round when a fumble inside their 10-yard line in the final seconds kept the Mountaineers’ season alive. In the second round, Appalachian State edged Eastern Washington, 38-35.
"I hadn't cried in years, but I cried," said Appalachian State senior left guard Kerry Brown. "It's a great way to go out."
Moore has been an assistant coach at Nebraska and Arkansas, but the phenomenon Appalachian State has grown into tops anything he has experienced in his coaching career.
"Those are institutions with renowned football programs," Moore said. "But in the years I was at those places, I don't think we ever got the national attention as our football team has at Appalachian State. I am thrilled for these players. Our seniors have three national championships."
Now, Appalachian State fans will have to develop a four-fingered wave to inspire Moore and his team for 2008.
AS -- Kevin Richardson 19 pass from Armanti Edwards (Julian Rauch kick), 10:47
AS -- Davon Moore 46 run (Rauch kick), 4:15
AS -- Daniel Kilgore 0 fumble recovery (Rauch kick), 10:22
D -- Mark Duncan 39 pass from Joe Flacco (Jon Striefsky kick), 1:10
AS -- Dexter Jackson 60 pass from Edwards (Rauch kick), :44
AS -- Richardson 8 pass from Edwards (Rauch kick), 4:56
D -- Omar Cuff 1 run (Striefsky kick), :54
AS -- Richardson 6 run (Rauch kick), 6:02
AS -- Trey Elder 53 run (Rauch kick), 3:29
D -- Duncan 75 kickoff return (Striefsky kick), 3:18
|Time of Possession||27:53||32:07|
Rushing: Appalachian St. -- Richardson 22-118, Edwards 18-89, Elder 2-71, Moore 4-62, Josh Jackson 4-24, Tavaris Washington 1-minus 6, Kilgore 0-0; Delaware -- Cuff 21-84; Kirven Michaud 2-20, Flacco 7-minus 1, Phillip Thaxton 1-minus 5.
Passing: Appalachian St. -- Edwards 9-15-0-198; Delaware -- Flacco 23-48-0-334.
Receiving: Appalachian St. -- Hans Batichon 2-30, Richardson 2-27, Jackson 1-60, CoCo Hillary 1-41, Moore 1-19, Josh Johnson 1-12, T.J. Courman 1-9; Delaware -- Aaron Love 7-101, Dncan 7-83, Michaud 3-45, Cuff 3-41, Josh Baker 2-49, Robbie Agnone 1-15.