BOONE, N.C. ?€“ Armanti Edwards scored the go-ahead touchdown with 1:10 remaining and Gary Tharrington forced a fumble at the ASU nine yard line with just 22 seconds left to play to give fifth-ranked Appalachian State University a heart-stopping 28-27 win over No. 12 James Madison in the first round of the 2007 NCAA Division I Football Championship on Saturday afternoon at Kidd Brewer Stadium.
With its ninth-straight postseason victory, Appalachian (10-2) advances to next Saturday's (Dec. 1) national quarterfinals where it will host Eastern Washington (9-3), a 44-15 winner over second-seeded McNeese State on Saturday evening. Kickoff for next Saturday's quarterfinal showdown at The Rock will be announced on Sunday.
The Mountaineers used big plays throughout the game to overcome disadvantages in nearly every statistical category, most notably time of possession, where James Madison (8-4) held a whopping 40:27-19:33 edge. JMU also boasted huge advantages in total plays (84-57), first downs (25-15), rushing yardage (312-204) and total yardage (436-330).
Despite the overwhelming numbers in the Dukes' favor, it was the Apps that turned in the game-changing plays throughout to escape with the thrilling victory.
The first came in the second quarter, with JMU already in possession of a 7-0 lead and inside the ASU 25 thanks to a 17-play, 68-yard that took 9:04 off the clock. On third-and-six from the 23 yard line, Appalachian linebacker Pierre Banks forced a fumble that was scooped up by fellow 'backer Jacque Roman, who returned 77 yard to the ASU two yard line. Three plays later, Edwards ran it in from four yards out to knot the game at 7-7.
The Dukes scored on the ensuing possession to regain a 14-7 lead, but the Mountaineers exploded for three-straight touchdowns, the first of which was set up by defensive end Tony Robertson's first-career interception on a pass deflected by cornerback Justin Woazeah. However, the Apps failed to convert on two of the three PATs (one that was blocked and one that was attempted from 35 yards out thanks to an ASU personal foul call) and held just a five-point halftime advantage at 19-14.
James Madison seemingly took control of the game after the break, as it put together scoring drives of 11 and 16 plays and grabbed a 27-19 lead on Jamal Sullivan's two-yard touchdown dive midway through the fourth quarter.
Things got even bleaker for the Mountaineers on the first play of the next drive when Walter Payton Award candidate Kevin Richardson went down with an ankle injury. However, the Apps managed to move the ball 52 yards in nine plays before settling for a 44-yard Julian Rauch field goal that cut the deficit to five with 4:51 to go in the ballgame.
With Appalachian needing its most critical stop of the season, James Madison picked up nine yards on the first two plays of its ensuing possession. However, Buck Buchanan Award candidate Corey Lynch stopped Sullivan for no gain on third down and on fourth-and-one, defensive tackle Anthony Williams stood up JMU quarterback Rodney Landers to give ASU possession on the James Madison 32 yard line with 2:35 left to play.
Needing a touchdown, Edwards and Co. faced fourth-and-three from the JMU 25 with less than two minutes remaining. The sophomore signal-caller delivered perhaps the biggest play of his young career, a 20-yard completion to Richardson's backup, Devon Moore, who made a diving catch that gave the Apps first-and-goal from the five yard line. On the next play, Edwards capped the Mountaineer comeback with his third touchdown run of the afternoon. The two-point-conversion attempt failed, leaving the Mountaineers with a tenuous 28-27 lead with 1:10 remaining on the clock.
In the back-and-forth affair, the Dukes took advantage of their final opportunity by driving 62 yards in just four plays into seemingly chip-shot field-goal range at the ASU nine yard line. With one timeout remaining, JMU sent Sullivan off tackle to apparently try to move the ball into better position for place-kicker Dave Stannard. However, Tharrington broke through the line and swiped at Sullivan, knocking him over and the ball to the turf. A scrum ensued, culminating with Banks emerging with the ball, setting off a wild celebration on the Appalachian sideline and in the loud, raucous crowd of 14,040 at The Rock. Edwards ended the saga by taking a knee on the final play.
In all, Edwards accounted for 258 (132 rushing and 126 passing) of Appalachian's 330 yards of offense and three of their four touchdowns.
Defensively, Roman led four Mountaineers in double-figures with a career-high 19 tackles to go along with the 77-yard fumble return. The 19 stops are tied for the second-most in ASU postseason history, behind only Sam Smalls' 21 in a first-round loss to Maine in 2002. Freshman linebacker D.J. Smith added 12 tackles and Banks and Lynch chipped in with 11 and 10, respectively.
Landers paced the Dukes with 253 yards of offense (129 rushing, 124 passing).
NOTES: The 100-yard rushing effort was Edwards' fifth in eight games this season and 11th in 23 collegiate outings ?€¦ it also marked the 19th 100-yard rushing performance and 12th-best rushing total in ASU postseason history ?€¦ injuries to Richardson and cornerback Jerome Touchstone, who left the game after re-aggravating a shoulder injury on the first series of the game, are both considered relatively minor ?€¦ both will be re-evaluated early in the week ?€¦ JMU held the ball for over 10 minutes in three of the game's four quarters ?€¦ Appalachian moved to 12-3 in 15 all-time meetings versus James Madison, including 2-0 in the postseason and 6-2 in Boone ?€¦ ASU secured its third-consecutive and seventh-overall 10-win season ?€¦ the Mountaineers' trip to the national quarterfinals is also their third-straight and seventh in the past 14 seasons.