College Football Preview: App. State at Montana
MISSOULA, Mont ó The two most successful Football Championship Subdivision teams this past decade meet in a semifinal game today.
Appalachian State, a three-time national champion with a 101-32 record since 2000, plays at Montana, which has a 118-12 record and the 2001 national title to go with three runner-up finishes since 2000.
“I told our team I thought it will be the biggest game in the history of our stadium, and it certainly has a chance to be the toughest ticket of all time,” said Montana coach Bobby Hauck. “It has a chance to be the largest crowd in stadium history. Nationally televised, it should be a lot of fun.”
The game kicks off at 2 p.m. and will be televised by ESPN. William & Mary (11-2) and Villanova (12-1) meet in the other semifinal Friday night.
Montana (13-0) is trying to advance to the national championship game in Chattanooga, Tenn., for the second straight year while Appalachian State (11-2) is looking for its fourth appearance in five years.
Appalachian State is led by defending Walter Payton Award winner Armanti Edwards, who led the led the team to its second and third national titles in 2006 and 2007.
“Right now we’re playing the team that has the Walter Payton Award winner,” said Griz defensive tackle Austin Mullins. “Last year he was the best player in the country, and he’s a finalist this year.”
Edwards has passed for 2,938 yards and 12 touchdowns this season and rushed for 625 yards and 18 more scores. His top two receivers are Matt Cline with 880 yards and two touchdowns while Brian Quick has 847 yards receiving and four scores. Devon Moore has rushed for 1,290 yards and 17 touchdowns.
“They’re a gifted group,” Hauck said. “We’ll have our hands full with these guys. We don’t have any illusions about that.”
Montana quarterback Andrew Selle has passed for 2,531 yards and 24 touchdowns while backup Justin Roper has 951 yards passing and eight more scores. Marc Mariani is the leading receiver with 1,262 yards and 12 touchdowns. Chase Reynolds leads the Griz ground game with 1,245 yards rushing and 20 scores.
Both teams have used some comebacks to advance in the postseason.
Last week, Appalachian State trailed defending national champion Richmond 31-28 with 3:26 left. Armanti led the Mountaineers on a 70-yard drive, capped by the game-winning 4-yard touchdown pass to Cline with 10 seconds left.
“We’re down and we always find a way to win,” said App State linebacker Jacque Roman. “Ninety-nine teams out of 100 would’ve given up in Richmond, because of the (snowy) conditions and the calls. That shows the heart of a champion.”
Montana has scored 91 straight points in the playoffs, after rallying from a 48-21 third-quarter deficit against South Dakota State to win the opening round game 61-48. Montana forced 10 turnovers in its 51-0 quarterfinal win over Stephen F. Austin, the top scoring offense in the FCS until they played the Grizzlies. Montana now leads the nation in scoring with nearly 38 points per game while App State is seventh with 34.5 points per game.
“They’re a very, very talented football team,” said Appalachian State coach Jerry Moore. “It doesn’t make any difference what defense they run or what offense they play or anything, their kids play hard. That’s the thing that’s impressive. They’re used to winning.”
NOTE: The Mountaineers are 15-0 in games televised on ESPN channels, but the program is 0-8 in games west of the Mississippi River and they’ve never won an FCS semifinal game on the road. Montana beat App State 19-16 in overtime in the 2000 semifinals in Missoula, the only time the two teams have met.