Appalachian State goes for second straight title tonight
By Elizabeth Davis
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — Once the season began, Appalachian State coach Jerry Moore mostly avoided talking about last year’s national championship run.
Now the Mountaineers are back in the Division I-AA title game with a freshman quarterback, hoping to be the first team to win consecutive crowns in six years.
Appalachian State (13-1) will face Massachusetts (13-1) on Friday. The Minutemen are going for their first national championship since 1998.
“We’re glad we’re here. We got a great taste of it last year,” Moore said Thursday.
“It’s a great feeling to accomplish what we did last year. But to put things in perspective — that was last year’s football team. We probably haven’t mentioned ‘national championship’ three times during the entire year.”
The winner will be the first to take home the newly named NCAA Division I Football Championship. The NCAA is phasing out the terms Divisions I-A and I-AA that applied to football. I-A is now the Football Bowl Subdivision, while I-AA is the Football Championship Subdivision.
Last year, the Mountaineers’ starting quarterback, Richie Williams, could not start and had to come off the bench to try to run their spread offense. Appalachian State was trailing 16-14 to Northern Iowa when the Mountaineers returned a fumble for the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter.
That game’s starter, Trey Elder, was supplanted after the first two games this season by speedy freshman Armanti Edwards. Edwards became the fifth player and only second freshman in Division I to pass for 2,000 yards and rush for 1,000 in the same season. Others include Missouri’s Brad Smith as a freshman and Texas’ Vince Young.
Appalachian State, which ranked fourth nationally in rush offense, also had 1,497 yards from running back Kevin Richardson, and receiver William Mayfield racked up 1,085 yards. Edwards said his teammates are helping him prepare for the biggest game in his young career.
“Most of these guys have been here. They know what to expect and they’re just taking me through,” he said.
Georgia Southern was the last team to win consecutive crowns in 1999 and 2000.
The Minutemen beat Georgia Southern to win its only title in 1998. The team’s defensive coordinator Don Brown is now head coach, and UMass ranks No. 1 in the nation in scoring defense at 12.29 points a game.
“This is going to be quite a clash,” Brown said. “We’ve got the top scoring defense, and I’ve watched Appalachian State in eight of their 14 games with 40 points or more.”
UMass, which won the Atlantic 10 title, had a tough road to the final and won at Montana 19-17 last week.
Steve Baylark, the A-10 co-offensive player of the year, ran for 169 yards, had 76 yards receiving and scored two touchdowns against Montana.
He has run for at least 1,000 yards in each of his four seasons. Baylark trails only current Arizona Cardinal Marcel Shipp on the school’s all-time career rushing list.
The Minutemen had missed the playoffs the last two seasons, and now they’re riding a school-record 12-game winning streak.
“We’ve been underdogs the whole season,” Baylark said. “This year has been a season to prove how hard we’ve worked.
The championship is sold out, and officials are expecting a crowd that could be the largest since moving to Chattanooga since 1997. Appalachian State fans from neighboring North Carolina have bought most of the tickets.