BATON ROUGE, La. ?€“ No. 7 Appalachian State University more than held its own against one of the top teams in all of college football, falling to the nation's sixth-ranked I-A squad, LSU, 24-0 on Saturday night at Tiger Stadium.
Appalachian held the Southeastern Conference's second-best offensive team to its third-lowest scoring output of the season, nearly nine points below its average. The Mountaineers also ran for 176 yards against I-A's eighth-ranked rushing defense, en route to out-gaining the Tigers 176-163 on the ground.
Appalachian ran for 108 yards on 17 rushes in the first half alone versus an LSU defense that came in giving up just 98 rushing yards per game. Walter Payton Award candidate Richie Williams led the Mountaineers' impressive performance on the ground with 80 yards on 10 attempts, while running back Kevin Richardson added 15 carries for 59 yards.
Despite the Apps holding statistical advantages in rushing yards (108-76) and time of possession (16:30-13:30) in the first half, LSU took a 14-0 lead into the locker room thanks to touchdown drives on its first possession of each quarter.
ASU had a chance to cut the halftime deficit in half on its first possession after the break whenWilliams found a wide open Richardson up the seam for what looked to be a sure touchdown. However, the ball slipped through the sophomore's hands and the Mountaineers were forced to punt.
Appalachian just missed on another opportunity to put points on the board on its second series of the third quarter. The Apps drove 64 yards in 14 plays and chewed 7:10 off of the clock, only to have a 33-yard field-goal attempt by Julian Rauch bounce off of the upright and miss wide right. Despite holding the ball for 8:49 of the third quarter, ASU went into the final period still trailing 14-0.
The Tigers finally took advantage of the Mountaineers' misfortunes on their first drive after the missed field goal when they capped a 10-play, 80-yard drive with a nine-yard touchdown pass from JaMarcus Russell to Kieth Zinger to stretch their lead to 21-0 with 13:22 to go in the ballgame.
LSU tacked on 34-yard field goal by Chris Jackson with 7:01 remaining to account for the final margin.
In all, the Mountaineers held the Bayou Bengals to 371 yards of total offense. Sophomore linebacker Pierre Banks, making only his second-career start in place of injured senior Brad West, recorded a career-high 11 tackles (10 solo) to lead Appalachian's valiant defensive effort. Safety Jeremy Wiggins added eight stops and linebacker Monte Smith made three tackles behind the line of scrimmage for the Apps.
Williams finished with 150 yards of total offense in three quarters of play to lead ASU offensively.
Despite the loss, Appalachian took control of its own destiny for a SoCon championship and automatic bid to the NCAA I-AA playoffs when Georgia Southern knocked off No. 1 Furman, 27-24, earlier in the day. With victories in its final two games versus Western Carolina and Elon, the Mountaineers will earn their first outright league title since 1995.
Appalachian (6-3, 4-1 SoCon) will look to clinch at least a share of the conference championship when it hosts its arch-rival WCU next Saturday at 3:30 p.m.
NOTES: A crowd of 91,414 was on hand in "Death Valley," the largest to ever witness an Appalachian contest by more than 13,000 fans (78,128 at Auburn on Sept. 5, 1999) ?€¦ ASU athletics director Charlie Cobb, faculty athletics representative Dr. Alan Hauser and student body president Jud Watkins presented a $20,000 check to the LSU Foundation for Hurricane Katrina relief efforts between the first and second quarter ?€¦ WR Jermane Little suffered a fractured fibula on the opening kickoff of the second half and is expected to be out for four weeks ?€¦ ASU was shut out for the first time since a 25-0 loss to The Citadel in 1992, a SoCon-long span of 160 games.