On the evening of Sept. 1, Appalachian State kicks off the 2016 season against Tennessee in a potential David versus Goliath match up. However, Sept. 1 also marks the 9-year anniversary of Appalachian State defeating another Goliath team—Michigan.
Appalachian State’s 5-9, 182-pound wide receiver Dexter Jackson put his finger over his lips as he ran into the end zone early in the first quarter that day, taunting those watching in the Big House, and by the end of the game, roughly 110,000 Michigan fans fell silent after Appalachian State’s Julian Rauch kicked a 24-yard field goal with 26 seconds left in the game that put the Mountaineers ahead.
“I told them to be quiet — we’re going to be out here all day,” Jackson said to the Associated Press after the game.
The Mountaineers left Michigan Stadium with a victory, 34-32. It was the first time a FCS team had beaten a team ranked in the Associated Press poll since 1989.
The Unusual Matchup
According to Sports Illustrated, schools voted in 2005 to approve a new rule that allowed 12 regular season games. This new rule went into effect immediately, so for the 2006 season, teams rushed to find teams to fill into the new slot. In 2006, Michigan faced Vanderbilt but elected to not play a rematch in 2007, leaving the Wolverines scrambling for a new opponent.
After the Wolverines contacted the Mountaineers about playing, Jerry Moore, App State’s head coach at the time, pushed for the two teams to meet, and eventually, the players for Appalachian State made their way from Boone, N.C. to Michigan Stadium to face the fifth ranked team in the nation.
Moore said to Sports Illustrated, that while many look at these sort of games as “money games,” he began referring to them as “opportunity games.”
Measuring UpWhen looking back and comparing the two teams, it makes sense that the battle between Michigan and App State was closer than many thought it would be. The Mountaineers had Jackson, who would go on to be drafted into the NFL in the second round, and were coming off two consecutive FCS national titles. Sports Illustrated even reported that App State players didn’t think about Michigan as a Goliath team until after the game.
“None of them would have been recruited by Michigan. The Mountaineers had won those national titles in the Football Championship Subdivision,” the Sports Illustrated feature read.
However, the Appalachian State players stood small in size compared to Michigan’s. Sports Illustrated reported that the Mountaineers’ offensive linemen averaged 276 pounds, whereas Michigan’s averaged 297. However, App State players remained much faster than Michigan’s. So much so that in the Associated Press’s coverage of the game, it reported that it was speed and passion that brought the Mountaineers to victory that day.
Moments that Mattered
On this sunny September afternoon, Michigan began the game by marching down the field and pushing running back Mike Hart over the goal line to put the first points on the board. However, just under two minutes later, Jackson nabbed a 68-yard pass from quarterback Armanti Edwards to run one in, tying the score.
The two teams battled back and forth for a majority of the first quarter, unable to capitalize on possession opportunities. Still, with about three minutes left in the first, Wolverine wide receiver Greg Mathews caught a pass from quarterback Chad Henne to put Michigan in the lead.
But, that lead was short-lived, for early in the second quarter, Appalachian State moved down the field and answered Michigan’s touchdown with one of its own. From there, the Mountaineers made moves to attempt to run away with the game, scoring another two touchdowns.
“[After the Wolverine’s touchdown,] you go, aw, geez. Maybe we’re not as good as we think,” said Mountaineer safety Corey Lynch to Sports Illustrated. “Maybe this is real college football. These are guys with real talent. They have something that we don’t have. Then, Dexter goes and scores on that long touchdown run, and we’re like, you know what, these are just regular kids from regular towns that were recruited just like us to play football.”
However, Michigan persevered, trying to catch up with App State. Before the end of the second quarter, kicker Jason Gingell put one through the uprights at the end of the second and early on in the third, keeping the Wolverines in the game. Yet, App State’s kicker wanted in on some of the action and posted a field goal for the Mountaineers.
Michigan, however, kept fighting and was able to post another touchdown, failing on a two-point conversion. However, the Wolverines successfully closed the gap created in the second quarter and led by a single point after Hart scored his third touchdown of the day. Still, the Wolverines failed a second two-point conversion.After regaining possession, App State marched down the field, and with 26 seconds left on the clock kicker Julian Rauch secured a two-point lead for the Mountaineers. However, the game did not end there.
Michigan, pushing in the last seconds for a win, marched down the field. The Wolverines set up for a field goal, but Lynch blocked the kick. The game was over. The Mountaineers had won.
“I actually almost overran the ball,” said Lynch to Sports Illustrated. “I had to slow up a little. I remember it hit me in the chest and bounced a couple of times. I picked it up with one hand, and I was off to the races.”
It went down in history as one of the biggest upsets in college football, but it stands like an old ghost story for larger teams, reminding them that anything can happen in a game.
So, with Appalachian State traveling to face the Volunteers at Neyland Stadium, will No. 9 Tennessee face the same fate as Michigan? Will history repeat itself or will the massive team post another win over a smaller team? While it might not be the same, since the Mountaineers made the move to FBS and the Sun Belt, it would still be quite the upset.