?€“ Appalachian State University earned its first Southern Conference championship since 1999, its first NCAA I-AA playoff berth since 2002 and brought the Old Mountain Jug back to Boone after a one-year hiatus with a 35-7 victory over Western Carolina on Saturday at Kidd Brewer Stadium.
A school-record crowd of 25,584 saw No. 8 Appalachian claim its 19th win in the past 21 meetings with its archrival. The Mountaineers out-gained the Catamounts 413-210 and grinded out scoring drives of 98 and 99 yards in the triumph.
Appalachian racked up 235 of the 413 yards on the ground. Running back Kevin Richardson
turned in his fourth 100-yard performance of the season with 102 yards and a pair of touchdowns and quarterback Richie Williams
added 84 yards to lead the ground attack.
Williams also enjoyed an efficient afternoon as a passer, completing 10-of-15 for 164 yards and two touchdowns. His two scoring strikes gave him 51 for his career to break Joe Burchette's school record of 50 set from 1999-2002. The Water Payton Award candidate now holds all but one career passing record at Appalachian. The school's career, single-season and single-game leader in total offense, passing yards, completion percentage and touchdown passes needs just nine more completions to become ASU's all-time leader in that category.
Appalachian looked a lot like the Mountaineer teams that won three conference titles in the 1990s on its first possession, as it ran the ball all on all six plays of a 72-yard touchdown drive that gave it a 7-0 lead less than five minutes into the game. Williams set the tone on the very first play with a season-long 42-yard run and running back Richardson punctuated the impressive series with a two-yard touchdown.
ASU continued to pound away at WCU on the ground throughout the first quarter. In fact, the Apps didn't even attempt a pass in the period, a marked departure from a balanced offense that has averaged more than half of its 431 yards per game this season through the air.
However, it was a classic example of the run setting up the pass, as Williams' first pass attempt ?€“ which came a minute-and-a-half into the second quarter ?€“ went for 47 yards to William Mayfield
. The long gain set up a 23-yard touchdown pass to tight end Daniel Bettis
that gave Appalachian a 14-0 lead.
On its very next possession, Appalachian marched 99 yards in 18 plays and stretched its advantage to 21-0 on an acrobatic eight-yard touchdown catch by Mayfield in the corner of the end zone. The Mountaineers took 8:40 off the clock on the drive alone, which was longer than they had possessed the ball in any second period all season.
Richardson added his second touchdown run of the afternoon from three yards out with 1:49 to go in the third quarter to stretch the lead to 28-0 after an eight-play, 98-yard drive.
Linebacker Monte Smith
capped ASU's impressive all-around effort with a 22-yard interception return for a touchdown, Appalachian's fourth defensive touchdown of the season.
Western Carolina (5-4, 4-3 SoCon) spoiled the Apps' shutout bid when backup quarterback Josh Lee threw a five-yard touchdown pass to Michael Hines.
Defensive linemen Marques Murrell
and Joe Suiter
led the Mountaineers defensively with 2.5 tackles for loss and two sacks apiece. Murrell two sacks gave him a conference-leading 9.5 for the season.
Appalachian earned the SoCon's automatic bid to the I-AA playoffs by holding the advantage in any tiebreakers involving a two-way tie with Georgia Southern (8-3, 5-2 SoCon) or a three-way tie with GSU and Furman (8-2, 4-2 SoCon).
The Mountaineers will look for their first outright league title since 1995 when they travel to last-place Elon (3-7, 0-6 SoCon) next Saturday. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. at Rhodes Stadium in Elon, N.C.
NOTES: ASU athletics director Charlie Cobb
, Chancellor Dr. Kenneth E. Peacock
and athletics facilities campaign chairperson Ed Broyhill
were on the field to officially unveil Appalachian's new facilities enhancement campaign at halftime of the contest ?€¦ the $32 million project includes a new Kidd Brewer Stadium complex on the east side of the stadium, an indoor practice facility and new stadiums for Mountaineer baseball, soccer and softball ?€¦ for more on the campaign, please click here
?€¦ the game ball was parachuted into Kidd Brewer by members of the Green Beret Parachute Team from Ft. Bragg, N.C. ?€¦ the crowd of 25,584 surpassed the previous ASU record of 25,301 set on Oct. 15, 1988 versus Furman ?€¦ ASU's school-record average of 23,169 fans per game is good for second in the nation, only 363 fans per game behind Montana ... Appalachian concluded a 4-0 regular season at Kidd Brewer Stadium, marking the first time in school history that ASU has posted three-straight undefeated campaigns at home ... the win extended the Mountaineers' school-record home winning streaks to 16-consecutive regular-season games and 15-straight contests overall.