Dec. 6, 2009

In Battle Of Two Of Nation's Best QB's, Edwards Wins Out

 

By John Packett
Special to NCAA.com


RICHMOND, Va. -- Appalachian State waited nearly a year to gain revenge for its loss to Richmond in the 2008 quarterfinals of the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.

When the Mountaineers knocked off the fourth-seeded Spiders 35-31 Saturday in this year’s quarters, the feeling couldn’t have been sweeter. Especially the way it was accomplished.

Wide receiver Matt Cline caught a 5-yard touchdown bullet from quarterback Armanti Edwards with 10 seconds left, capping a fourth-quarter comeback before a crowd of 7,272 in the final game in the 80-year history of  UR Stadium.

“We knew it was going to be a tough one,” said Edwards, who ran for a pair of scores in addition to the TD strike to Cline. “We just had a great fourth quarter, and the defense held it for us. We came out with the win, which was great.”

The Spiders (11-2) had taken the lead on an 8-yard fumble return by Eric McBride 3:26 from the end, but that still gave Edwards plenty of time to lead his club on a 70-yard scoring drive in the closing minutes.

“These guys are so resilient in a lot of ways,” said Appalachian State coach Jerry Moore. “To come up here and beat a team like Richmond, a team that has the best defensive team we’ve played all year, bar none, is really something.”

Richmond’s final chance ended on a sack of Eric Ward, who was trying to get off a Hail Mary pass from the Spiders’ 45.

“We went toe to toe with them for a while,” said coach Mike London, who led the Spiders to the FCS title in his first year at the helm in 2008. “They were able to make some plays, and we couldn’t stop them there at the end.”

The Mountaineers (11-2), winners of 11 straight, will travel to Missoula to face top-seeded Montana (13-0) in the semifinals either Friday or Saturday. That winner advances to the title game Dec. 18 in Chattanooga, Tenn.

After the Spiders had taken the lead on McBride’s TD, Edwards knew what was needed from him and his team, even though Appalachian State was 70 yards from the end zone.

“We were going pretty good in the fourth quarter, so I thought we had a good chance,” said Edwards, who led the Mountaineers to back-to-back FCS titles in 2006-07 but was on the losing end to Richmond 33-13 last year.

On third-and-goal from the 5, Edwards hit Cline with a quick pass on a post pattern that the receiver grabbed just off the ground.

“When the linebacker blitzed off the line, I knew the ball was going to be thrown my way,” said Cline. “I just tried to get my head around as quick as I could and be ready for it.”

Richmond won the toss and elected to go on offense immediately. It was a wise decision, since the Spiders went right down the field and scored on a 2-yard run by fullback Ben Keating.

The Mountaineers were unfazed by Richmond’s quick strike, however, going 75 yards in seven plays to tie it on a 16-yard run by Edwards.

On a field rendered slippery by rain and snow earlier in the day, the Spiders took a 14-7 advantage midway through the second quarter when Ward found wideout Tre Gray with a 19-yard pass down the right side.

Richmond’s defense clamped down a little harder on Edwards the rest of the half, putting more pressure on the senior and forcing him out of the pocket. Appalachian State couldn’t mount another serious threat in the opening half.

Thanks to a 46-yard kickoff return by Devin Radford to open the second half, the Mountaineers tied it less than three minutes into the third period. A 17-yard scamper around the left side by Devon Moore was the equalizer. Moore finished with 175 yards on 22 carries.

“The whole line did a great job,” said Moore. “Their line was shifting different ways, and I just hit the hole.”

The Spiders answered with a 1-yard run by fullback Kendall Gaskins that took 7:42 off the clock and gave the home team a 21-14 lead. After the defense forced a three-and-out, Richmond got close enough for Andrew Howard to try a 29-yard field goal, but it sailed wide left.

Given another opportunity later in the final quarter, Howard blasted this one down the middle from 27 yards, making it 24-14.

It took Appalachian State less than a minute to close within three on a 5-yard run by Moore with 8:38 left, and the Mountaineers gained their first lead of the game on a 3-yard dash by Edwards with 4:27 remaining. Moore accounted for 67 yards on the 73-yard march.