App State starts season at site of biggest victory
Posted August 14
Boone, N.C. — Some sports moments you simply don’t forget. One of many for me occurred on the afternoon of Sept. 1, 2007.
In the Triangle, many fans will recall that date as the beginning of the Tom O’Brien era in N.C. State football – a deflating 25-23 loss to Central Florida in Carter-Finley.
But O’Brien, to a degree, was fortunate that day. The Wolfpack score was a second thought to almost everyone by the time news circulated through the stadium – and much of the developed world for that matter – that Appalachian State University had won on opening day at Michigan.
By almost all ratings, the Mountaineers’ 34-32 win stands as the most startling upset in college football history.
Among the contenders for that distinction is State’s 24-7 win over 2nd-ranked Florida State in the second game of the 1998 season.
I was in Carter-Finley stadium for that game, too. But to be honest, those Wolfpack teams were so unpredictable that no outcome was totally shocking.
The following year I watched most of those same State players go to Texas for the opening game in suffocating heat and humidity and leave with a 23-20 win, then return to Raleigh and shut out South Carolina in the ensuing game and eventually beat Clemson with an incredible performance, only to finish the season 6-6 overall and 3-5 in the ACC.
Appalachian’s win at Michigan went a step beyond, almost to the point of being surreal – primarily since NCAA FCS schools (previously Division I-AA) hardly ever beat FBS (Division I-A) opponents. Such games were almost always played at the stadium of the FBS team and the outcomes were routinely one-sided. Michigan had not finished a season with a losing record since 1967 and had not lost a season opener to any opponent other than Notre Dame since 1981.
Jerry Moore, the Mountaineers’ standout coach of the time, even described the trip as a “budget game.” Michigan paid ASU roughly $400,000 for the appearance, and although Moore’s team was at the top of the second-division heap and would finish 13-2, it was a foregone conclusion that the Wolverines would win by 20 or more points.
Not only did Moore’s team win at Ann Arbor, the Mountaineers did it with a last-minute field goal drive – Julian Rauch’s 24-yarder with only 26 seconds left.
A week later, the Wolverines were routed by Oregon, and coach Lloyd Carr was forced to retire even though his team recovered for a 9-4 finish and a bowl win over Florida.
When Appalachian returns to Michigan on Aug. 30 to start the 2014 season, much has changed in both camps.
Moore retired after going 8-4 in 2012 and was replaced by offensive coordinator Scott Satterfield, whose first team went 4-8.
And after much debate and soul-searching, the Mountaineers reached the decision to leave the Southern Conference and the division in which they had flourished for so long.
The game at Michigan in 2014 will mark ASU’s first as a FBS school and its first as a member of the Sun Belt Conference, where 10 other league cohorts will range as far west as Idaho and New Mexico State and south to Louisiana and Alabama.
There’s been a lot of speculation about the prudence of ASU’s jump and a certain part of that discussion won’t change regardless of how this return trip to Michigan unfolds.
Odds are, Brady Hoke’s fourth Wolverine team will not be caught looking ahead to a Sept. 6 trip to Notre Dame and will avoid a repeat of 2007.
But even if it goes poorly for Satterfield and the Mountaineers, history will not change. And a lot of us will never forget that weekend seven years ago when Appalachian State’s coaches and players boarded several buses, made a 1,500-mile round trip from Boone to Ann Arbor and rocked the sports world to its very core.