BOONE, N.C.- Quarterback Armanti Edwards accounted for 347 yards of offense and three touchdowns while Appalachian State University's defense limited Eastern Washington's potent aerial attack to a season-low passing output en route to a 38-35 triumph in Saturday's NCAA Division I Football Championship quarterfinal at Kidd Brewer Stadium.
With its 10th-straight postseason victory, which ties an NCAA Division I FCS (Football Championship Subdivision ?€“ formerly Division I-AA) record for consecutive postseason wins in contiguous years, Appalachian (11-2) becomes just the sixth team to ever advance to three-consecutive FCS/I-AA semifinals. ASU will host Richmond, a 21-10 winner at Wofford on Saturday night, next Saturday (Dec. 8) at 4 p.m. at Kidd Brewer Stadium. The semifinal showdown will be televised nationally on ESPN.
The Mountaineers led 21-7 at halftime and 38-21 with just over six minutes to go in the ballgame, but Eastern Washington (9-4) mounted a furious comeback to cut the deficit to just three points on Matt Nichols' two-yard touchdown pass to Matt Martin with 28 seconds remaining. However, ASU's Chase Laws recovered EWU's ensuing onsides kick attempt to seal the Apps' victory.
Appalachian's defense smothered Eastern Washington's high-powered passing game for much of the afternoon, limiting the Eagles to less than 100 yards through the air until the final five minutes of the game. With its late flurry, EWU finished with 185 passing yards, still its lowest total of the campaign and 120 yards below its season average.
Buck Buchanan Award finalist Corey Lynch led the defensive effort with an interception, fumble recovery and field-goal block. With his 23rd-career interception and seventh-career fumble recovery, Lynch extended his school record for takeaways to 30 in just 54 career games. His field-goal block, which thwarted the Eagles' only scoring opportunity of the first quarter, was the sixth of his career (all in his 19 games).
Not to be overlooked by the defensive performance was the play of Appalachian's offense, which racked up an ASU-playoff-record 529 total yards (308 rushing, 221 passing). For the fourth time in its last six postseason games, Appalachian featured two 100-yard rushers, as Edwards' turned in a game-high 126 yards on the ground and running back Devon Moore added a career-high 100. Kevin Richardson chipped in with 69 yards on just eight carries (8.6 ypr) despite still nursing an ankle injury sustained in last week's first-round win over James Madison.
All three of Edwards' touchdowns came in the first half on a four-yard run and passes of 41 yards to Dexter Jackson and 15 yards to Hans Batichon. Eastern Washington benefited from an 82-yard kickoff return following ASU's second touchdown to score its only touchdown of the half on a seven-yard pass from Nichols to his go-to receiver, Aaron Boyce.
Mountaineer special-teams miscues also led to the Eagles' next two scores. Early in the third quarter, following a questionable running into the kicker penalty on Lynch, EWU cut the ASU lead to 21-14 on a 51-yard fake-punt run by Bryan Jarrett. After Appalachian stretched its advantage back to 10 points on a 21-yard field goal by Julian Rauch, Eastern Washington's A.J. Jimerson returned the ensuing kickoff 78 yards for a score to make it 24-21.
The Apps appeared to put the game on ice with touchdown runs of 10 and 18 yards by Moore and Richardson, respectively, but EWU scored twice in the final 3:17 to make it interesting.
In addition to Lynch, senior cornerback Justin Woazeah and freshman linebacker D.J. Smith led Appalachian's defensive performance with 12 tackles apiece. Woazeah added a game-high four pass break-ups and Smith recovered a fumble for the third takeaway of his young career.
Offensively, wide receivers Batichon (five receptions for 41 yards), CoCo Hillary (3-66) and Jackson (2-54) helped pace the Mountaineers.
For Eastern Washington, Nichols completed just 24 of his 42 pass attempts, found the end zone twice and was intercepted once. Boyce was the team's leading receiver with five catches for 37 yards and Dale Morris ran 16 times for 69 yards.
NOTES: Appalachian joins Georgia Southern (1999-2001) as the only teams to ever win 10-straight FCS/I-AA playoff games ?€¦ ASU is also the first team to advance to the semis three-consecutive seasons since GSU pulled off the feat five-straight times from 1998-2002 ?€¦ Saturday's over-capacity attendance of 16,947 marked the second-largest home crowd in ASU postseason history, behind only the 18,040 that witnessed last season's semifinal win over Youngstown State ?€¦ Appalachian moved to 20-0 all-time when Lynch intercepts a pass ?€¦ Lynch is within two interceptions of Larry Harbin's (1961-64) school record of 23 ?€¦ Edwards completed his first nine passes of the afternoon and didn't throw an incomplete pass until the third period ?€¦ the win was the Mountaineers' third-straight over Big Sky Conference competition, all in the past 12 months (38-17 over Montana State in last year's NCAA quarterfinal round and 34-21 earlier this season over Northern Arizona) ... Appalachian's 95-yard drive for its first touchdown was its longest scoring drive of the season.