College Football: Appalachian faces James Madison
RICHMOND, Va. ó Appalachian State is atop the mountain again in college football’s second tier, but the three-time defending national champion Mountaineers’ perch could be threatened Saturday night at James Madison.
The Dukes might be the most dangerous team in the Colonial Athletic Association, the best conference in the Football Championship Subdivision, and they have a score to settle.
Top-ranked App State has beaten CAA teams in the championship to win its last two titles, and is the only team preventing the conference from complete domination.
Delaware won the title in 2003, James Madison won in 2004 and Massachusetts and Delaware have lost in the last two championship games. With five CAA teams ranked among the top 10 in several FCS polls this season, App State and the CAA could meet again down the road.
JMU, Richmond, New Hampshire, UMass and Delaware are all in the top 10 considered title contenders.
But for tonight, all eyes will be on Bridgeforth Stadium in Harrisonburg, where the memory of an NCAA playoff game given away twice by the Dukes in 2007 still stings plenty.
“The buzz up here in Harrisonburg is crazy right now, just because of the way we ended the season last year,” Dukes quarterback Rodney Landers said. “It’s amazing. Everywhere I go throughout town and on campus, people are stopping me, asking about the game and telling me how excited they are about watching it and being in attendance. Our fans are pumped.”
Revenge, they hope, will be especially sweet.
Last year, the Dukes failed to convert a fourth-and-1 from their own 32 late in their first-round game against the Mountaineers, who then scored to take the lead with 1:10 to play.
James Madison then drove all the way to the App State 9, but fumbled the ball away while trying to center it for a short field goal try and Appalachian State recovered and hung on.
Mountaineers quarterback Armanti Edwards, who scored the go-ahead touchdown last year, assumes the stunning finish won’t be forgotten under the lights tonight.
“Most of us were there in that game last year and (saw) what happened, so we know they’re coming after us from the get-go,” he said.
The agony lingered for months, Dukes coach Mickey Matthews said.
“Without a doubt, it’s the toughest loss I’ve ever suffered as a head coach, as any kind of coach,” Matthews said, adding that it took months for him to even watch the game tape.
“If anyone that was in that stadium that day would have gone through what we did in the last 30 seconds to lose that game the way we did, it was just painful to look at,” he said.
The Mountaineers are just as eager to put the game in the past, coach Jerry Moore said.
“I would say the same thing is true for both of us ó we’re going to find out a little bit more about what kind of a football team we really have,” Moore said. “I think when you get to the level that both of us are at, you look forward to playing in ballgames like this.”