Dec. 6, 2009

By John Packett
Special to

RICHMOND, Va. -- When two of the best quarterbacks at the Football Championship Subdivision level met Saturday night in the quarterfinals, one had to finish his career.

That’s because Armanti Edwards of Appalachian State and Eric Ward if Richmond are seniors, and the loser was going home. That’s a shame, because between them they had led their teams to the last three FCS titles.

Only Edwards is going to keep playing, however, since Appalachian State defeated Richmond 35-31 in a down-to-the-wire thriller to earn a berth in next Saturday’s semifinals against top-seeded Montana (13-0).

Edwards, who helped the Mountaineers to consecutive FCS championships in 2006-07 before bowing out in the quarterfinals last year, threw a 4-yard TD pass to Matt Cline with 10 seconds remaining to account for the winning margin.

“He’s the best player in FCS,” Richmond coach Mike London said of Edwards, who passed for 216 yards and ran for 51 more while scoring twice. “He’s a terrific player. The difference in the fourth quarter was called Armanti Edwards.”

Edwards, one of three players in contention for the Walter Payton Award as FCS’ top player, was at his best in the final period, when the Mountaineers overcame a 24-14 deficit with three touchdowns in the final 8 1/2 minutes.

Edwards was slowed by hip and knee injuries in the quarterfinal meeting between these teams in 2008.

“Last year Armanti probably wasn’t in the best shape he’s ever been,” said coach Jerry Moore. “But he still competed.”

Edwards appeared to be fine against the Spiders, especially when it counted down the stretch. The 6-foot, 184-pound left-hander led Appalachian State on drives of 64, 73 and 70 yards that kept his career going.

Meanwhile, Ward reached the end of the line despite passing for 202 yards and a TD and rushing for 51 more. The 6-2, 210-pounder was a starter from the first game of his career and led Richmond to three straight FCS playoff appearances.

“Eric Ward is a tremendous leader,” said London. “He’s quiet, but he’s got a lot of poise out there when you need it. He’s one of the best quarterbacks in FCS and in the Colonial Athletic Association. When it’s time to perform, he’s a winner, and there’s something to be said for that.”

This was the third time in as many years the two QBs had hooked up in the playoffs. This was the rubber match, and the victory gives Edwards a 2-1 edge in the series.

“He’s probably the best quarterback we’ve gone against in the last four years in the playoffs,” Moore said of Ward. “All three years we’ve played them, both quarterbacks have played tremendous, competitive games.

“That’s the thing about both of them. Both of them really know how to compet when the game is on the line.”

Ward played a huge role in the Spiders’ run to the FCS title a year  ago, pulling out a last-second victory at Northern Iowa in the semifinals and guiding Richmond past Montana 24-7 in the final. He carried the Spiders to the semis in 2007.

Going head to head with Edwards for the last three seasons has been a pleasure, Ward said.

“He’s a great player,” said Ward. “Each time we’ve played has been a battle. He finds ways to make plays, picks up yards with his feet. He’s an awesome player.”

Unfortunately, the two won’t have another chance to showcase their skills against each other in college, but who knows what the future holds? Maybe they’ll meet again in the professional ranks, although both are probably long shots to make it in the NFL.

But they certainly provided FCS fans with some unforgettable moments in the playoffs.