?€“ Filling in for an injured Richie Williams
, backup quarterback Trey Elder
scored the go-ahead touchdown with 2:17 remaining to give Appalachian State University a 29-23 victory over Furman and its first-ever berth in the NCAA Division I-AA national championship game.
Trailing 23-21 midway through the fourth quarter, Elder engineered an 11-play, 76-yard drive that culminated with the sophomore taking the ball in himself on a quarterback sneak from a yard out. Elder completed a pair of passes on the game-winning drive, including a 28-yarder to senior Brandon Turner
that moved the Mountaineers into Furman territory.
Following a four-yard Elder run and a 10-yard completion to Dexter Jackson
, running back Kevin Richardson
carried the ball six-straight times for 24 yards, including a two-yard gain on fourth-and-one from the Furman 22 with less than 4:30 left to play, to set up Elder's score. Elder also found William Mayfield
for the two-point conversion to give the Apps a 29-23 lead.
However, as is seemingly always the case in the Appalachian-Furman rivalry, the contest came down to the final minute. Quarterback Ingle Martin led the Paladins into Mountaineer territory with less than 40 seconds to play, but on first-and-10 from the ASU 36 all-America candidate Jason Hunter
drilled Martin, forcing a fumble that was picked up by Appalachian's Omarr Byrom
and returned all the way to the Furman one yard line.
From there, the party was on in Kidd Brewer Stadium, as the Mountaineers ran out the remaining 13 seconds to secure the victory and the title game berth and spark a frenzied celebration among the 15,307 raucous fans at Kidd Brewer Stadium.
ASU gave the Black and Gold faithful a lot to cheer about in the early going when it jumped out to a 14-0 advantage less than nine minutes into the game. Appalachian received the opening kickoff and marched 70 yards in nine plays, capped by a four-yard TD run by Richardson, to take a quick 7-0 lead. After forcing the Paladins to punt, Williams and the Mountaineers methodically moved the ball to the FU 45, but the mood turned somber at The Rock when the Walter Payton Award finalist left the game following an 11-yard scamper with an injured left ankle.
However, the Apps didn't miss a beat, as Elder stepped in and on his first play connected with Jackson for a 45-yard touchdown that gave ASU a 14-0 lead with 6:36 to play in the opening period.
The second quarter was all Furman, as the Paladins put 23 points on the board to take a 23-21 advantage into halftime. Running back Jerome Felton accounted for two of FU's three touchdowns in the period with scoring jaunts of 31 and four yards. Appalachian's only score of the quarter came on Richardson's second touchdown of the afternoon from six yards out.
Despite golden scoring opportunities for both teams, Furman's two-point lead stood for much of the second half. The Mountaineers weren't able to capitalize when Corey Lynch's
interception gave them the ball on the Furman 39 yard line or when they moved the ball inside the Furman 10 in the third quarter, only to fumble it away. The Paladins also came away empty after driving inside the ASU 10 in the third period when Hunter and Pierre Banks
stuffed Felton for a loss of two on fourth-and-goal from the one yard line.
The timely hits were just part of a dominating performance for Hunter as he added 10 tackles to go along with the sack, forced fumble and 2.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage. Over the past two games, the senior from Fort Bragg, N.C. has registered 21 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and two sacks.
In his first significant playing time since leading Appalachian to a 41-34 triumph over Texas State on Oct. 2, 2004, Elder completed 12-of-17 passes for 165 yards and a touchdown and ran for 69 yards and the winning score.
Richardson became the first Mountaineer to ever gain 100 rushing yards twice in the same playoff season with 105 yards on 26 attempts. His 385 yards on the ground in three career playoff games are just 40 yards short of the ASU postseason record of 425 that ASU great Ritchie Melchor compiled in five playoff appearances in 1986 and '87.
In his final collegiate outing, Martin threw for 238 yards to lead Furman (11-3). Felton added 105 rushing yards for the Paladins, while Jeremy Blocker led FU's defensive efforts with a game high-tying 12 tackles.
The second-seeded Mountaineers will battle Northern Iowa, a 40-37 overtime winner at No. 4 Texas State in the other semifinal, for the national title on Friday, Dec. 16. The national championship game is set for 8 p.m. at Finley Stadium in Chattanooga, Tenn. and will be televised live on ESPN2.
NOTES: The electric crowd of 15,307 marked the largest home attendance in Appalachian playoff history, topping the previous mark of 14,621 that witnessed the only other semifinal ever played at ASU versus Marshall in 1987 ?€¦ Williams is listed as day-to-day with the injured left ankle ?€¦ despite the injured ankle, Williams made a special walk following the game - across the stage to receive his bachelor's degree in graphic arts and imaging technology at ASU's winter commencement ... Appalachian extended its school-record home winning streak to 18-straight games and ensured that the run will extend into its fourth year next fall ?€¦ Furman dropped its fifth-straight contest in Boone, dating back to the 1996 season ?€¦ Northern Iowa will be ASU's second opponent in three weeks out of the Gateway Football Conference ?€¦ the Mountaineers downed Southern Illinois, who shared the Gateway title with UNI and Youngstown State, 38-24 in the quarterfinal round ?€¦ for information on tickets, travel and much more for Friday's national championship game, Mountaineer fans can click here