BOONE, N.C. ?€“ It was a record-setting day at Kidd Brewer Stadium on Saturday, as Walter Payton Award candidate Kevin Richardson became Appalachian State University's all-time leading rusher and Appalachian claimed its third-straight Southern Conference championship with a 37-17 win over Chattanooga.
Appalachian (9-2, 5-2 SoCon) became just the seventh team in the 86-year history of the SoCon to win three-consecutive conference titles, joining Duke (1943-45), West Virginia (1953-56), Chattanooga (1977-79), Furman (1980-83 and 1988-90) and Georgia Southern (1997-2002) as the only programs to accomplish the feat. After winning back-to-back outright championships, ASU shares the 2007 crown with Wofford (8-3, 5-2 SoCon). Both teams will represent the SoCon in the 16-team 2007 NCAA Division I Championship field, with league foes The Citadel, Elon and Georgia Southern (all 7-4, 4-3 SoCon) clinging to hopes to also earn a bid out of the nation's top-ranked Division I Football Championship Subdivision conference (according to the latest Sagarin ratings).
Not to be overshadowed was the accomplishment by Richardson, a former walk-on who ran past ASU legend John Settle (1983-86) for top billing in the school's all-time rushing annals. Richardson, who needed just 27 yards coming in to surpass Settle's record mark of 4,409, wasted no time in making history, as he broke the record on a 10-yard gallop with 9:21 remaining in the first quarter.
From there, it became the Armanti Edwards show, as the sophomore quarterback scored on runs of seven, 28 and 40 yards in the first period to help the Mountaineers open up a 21-7 advantage.
Chattanooga (2-9, 2-5 SoCon) came roaring back in the second quarter, as it marched inside the ASU 20 yard line four times in the period. However, Appalachian limited UTC to just 10 points on the four red-zone trips and took a slim 21-17 lead into the locker room at halftime.
After surrendering 299 yards of offense in the first half, the Mountaineer defense turned up the pressure after the break. The Apps didn't allow Chattanooga to cross the 50 yard line after the midway point of the third quarter and forced four turnovers en route to limiting the Mocs to just 99 yards of offense in the second half.
Late in the third period, defensive end Gary Tharrington turned the tide of the game when he forced and recovered a fumble by Chattanooga's Brent Hayes at the UTC 29 yard line. Five plays later, Edwards scored his fourth touchdown of the afternoon from two yards out to give ASU a 27-17 cushion.
Thanks to great field position attained on a 17-yard punt by UTC's Jonathan Wright, the Mountaineers stretched the lead to 30-17 on Julian Rauch's 23-yard field goal with 8:54 remaining.
The Black and Gold defense put the finishing touches on the victory with 36 seconds remaining, when Buck Buchanan Award candidate Corey Lynch drilled Moc receiver Clint Woods as he caught a pass and Justin Woazeah scooped up the loose ball and returned it 32 yards for his first-career touchdown to close out the scoring.
Lynch helped the Mountaineers' sterling defensive effort in the second half with an interception and a pass break-up to go along with the forced fumble. The interception was the 22nd of his career (three shy of the school record), fourth of the season and third in the past four games.
Tharrington added 10 tackles, including the forced fumble and recovery, two-and-a-half tackles for loss, a sack and a pair of quarterback hurries and Titus Howard picked off his second pass of the season. Freshman linebacker D.J. Smith led all players with 14 stops.
Offensively, Edwards and Richardson both went over the 100-yard rushing mark for the fifth time in the last 11 games they've played in together, with Edward rolling up a game-high 157 yards on the ground and Richardson chipping in with 103. Richardson's record rushing total now stands at 4,486 yards while Edwards became the fastest player in school history to reach the 2,000-yard rushing plateau. In just 22 career games, Edwards has rushed for 2,081 yards, already the ninth-highest mark in school history and most ever by an ASU quarterback.
The Mountaineers discover what their path to a third-straight national championship looks like on Sunday when the Division I Championship bracket is unveiled at 3:30 p.m. on ESPNU. Appalachian will host a selection show viewing party beginning at 3 p.m. at Legends on the ASU campus. The event is open to the public and admission is free.
NOTES: Appalachian defeated Chattanooga for the 12th-straight time at home ?€¦ ASU's last loss to UTC in Boone was in 1983 ?€¦ the Mountaineers set a school record with their 11th 30-point game of the season, breaking last year's record of 10 ?€¦ with a crowd of 23,328, Appalachian won the FCS regular-season total attendance title with a cumulative attendance of 162,481 (27,080 average) in six regular-season home games, despite hosting one less home date than second-place Montana, which drew 162,635 fans in seven home games ?€¦ Appalachian moved to 18-0 all-time when Richardson rushes for 100 yards and 19-0 when Lynch intercepts a pass ?€¦ Edwards' 100-yard rushing effort was the 10th of his career ?€¦ Edwards' four rushing touchdowns were a career high.