In the three years of Appalachian State's FCS National Championships, the 2006 title team suffers from middle child syndrome. The first, 2005, will always be the favorite because it's the first. The third, 2007, will be special because that was the Michigan year.
2006 doesn't get the love the other two receive, which is a pity because it was the best team of the three. 2005 had the best defense and 2007 the best offense, but 2006 had the best balance. This was a team that lost the first game to NC State and then won 14 straight, and then kept streak all the way to 18 before ending.
The dominance of the 2006 Mountaineers can't be overstated. In their 14 wins, App State trailed for a grand total of 42:31 out of 840:00 played. App trailed more than that (59:26) just in the loss versus NC State.
Part One - Changing Quarterbacks
Coming off the 2005 FCS National Championship, Appalachian State was going sky high. A vast number of players returned, but the big question mark was under center, where Richie Williams had departed and it looked like Trey Elder was the heir apparent.
Elder had come into the 2005 semifinals versus Furman after Williams went down with a leg injury and led the Mountaineers to a 29-23 victory, one of the most memorable games in App State history.
Elder's career as starting QB didn't begin well. The first offensive snap at NC State sailed over his head for a safety just 36 seconds into the season. Despite the defense holding firm, the offense couldn't take advantage and turned the ball over in key situations in a 23-10 loss.
The second game was the home opener against 2004 FCS National Champions James Madison. After the Dukes took an early 3-0 lead, Elder marched down the field, only to go down with an injury while converting a third down at the JMU 7. In came true freshman Armanti Edwards to run for a seven-yard touchdown on the next play.
Both quarterbacks shared duties the rest of the game as App State took a 21-10 victory over the Dukes. The following week, Edwards got the nod for the first half against D2 Mars Hill in a 41-0 shutout.
Part Two - Solidifying Dominance
Going forward, Armanti Edwards was the man, helping overcome a sluggish start for a 41-6 rout at Gardner-Webb that saw Dexter Jackson return two punts for a touchdown in the third quarter.
The defense, led by Marques Murrell, Gary Tharrington, and Corey Lynch, kept opponents out of the endzone for ten straight quarters. William Mayfield shined with nine catches for 182 yards in a 45-21 Homecoming win over the Phoenix.
A 56-21 win (35-0 at halftime) at hapless UTC followed; Edwards was 11 of 12 for 296 yards in the first half alone and Jeremy Wiggins picked up two interceptions. It would not be the Apps' only trip to Chattanooga that season.
At this point, the Apps were 5-1 and had won four in a row by a combined score of 183-48.
Part Three - Getting Tested
Hosting Wofford the following week, everything looked to keep chugging along. Two horrible Terrier punts put App State up 14-0 just inside five minutes, but then something weird happened. The Mountaineers didn't score for the remaining 55 minutes of the game.
This time, the defense had to step up, limiting Wofford to just one score. Lynch blocked a fourth-quarter field goal and the defense stopped another red zone threat to give App State a 14-7 victory.
The following week had the Apps visit their nemesis in Statesboro. Despite the Eagles having a bad year under a coach they still refuse to name, the rivalry game was worth getting up for.
After keeping the score tied 17-17 late in the game, the teams went to overtime. After exchanging field goals, the Apps responded with a three-yard touchdown by Kevin Richardson in the second overtime. A first-down reverse was snuffed out and three straight passes fell incomplete as the Mountaineers escaped Statesboro with a 27-20 double-overtime victory.
And Armanti Edwards did this in Statesboro to the team who pulled his offer. It's so beautiful.
Part Four - The Dominance Returns
7-1, the Apps returned home for a Black Saturday kickoff against #8 Furman. The Paladins took the opening kickoff down to score and held that lead into the second quarter. Then right before halftime, a 31-yard Furman field goal was blocked and returned 79 yards by Corey Lynch for an App State touchdown, a 14-7 lead, and a preview of what would transpire in Michigan 10 months later.
It was all App State in the second half as the Mountaineers out-gained the Paladins 219-32 in a 40-7 drubbing. Kevin Richardson rushed for 173 yards and four touchdowns on the day to go 8-1.
Over the next two weeks, a 42-13 Senior Day victory over The Citadel that included 148 yards and three touchdowns for Richardson clinched the SoCon title for the second straight season. That was followed by The Battle for the Old Mountain Jug at Western Carolina. Right before kickoff, God brought a biblical downpour to Cullowhee, which persisted for most of the game.
Despite the downpour, the Apps jumped out to a 17-0 halftime lead and cruised to a 31-9 victory, sewing up a 10-1 regular season, a perfect 8-0 SoCon campaign and the #1 seed in the FCS Playoffs.
Part Five - The Postseason
The first round had App State hosting future Sun Belt rival Coastal Carolina. Much like the year before, the Apps built a 31-0 halftime lead en route to a 45-28 victory. Armanti Edwards ran for 172 yards while Richardson added 156 rushing yards of his own.
The second round was a bit trickier against Montana State. After jumping out 14-0, the Bobcats pulled back and only trailed 17-10 at the half. That one score lead persisted into the fourth when Corey Lynch, who just returned from a severe elbow injury suffered versus The Citadel, intercepted a trick play to end another Bobcats' threat. Richardson followed that up with a touchdown rush and was followed by Omarr Byrom's sack and strip, leading to Richardson's fourth touchdown of the day and a 38-17 victory.
The semifinal versus Youngstown State was never really in doubt. The Penguins didn't get a first down til the second quarter and despite only being down 28-14 at half, the Mountaineers finished strong. With 353 total rushing yards, over 100 each by Richardson and Edwards, the Apps punched their ticket to the 2006 Division I FCS National Championship with a 49-27 victory.
App State enjoyed a massive crowd advantage against UMass in the Championship. Regardless, the Minutemen took the opening kickoff and drove down the field for a 7-0 lead, the first App deficit in 23 quarters. Richardson responded late in the quarter with a 45-yard touchdown, and after a nearly scoreless second, it was Richardson again from six yards out with 49 seconds left to make it 14-7 Apps at the half.
The third saw an Edwards interception returned to tie the game at 14-14. However, the Mountaineers drove right back down the field and Richardson went in from three yards out to make it 21-14 going into the fourth.
The Minutemen had to settle for a field goal with just under nine minutes left to make it 21-17, but the next App State drive cemented the championship. A 14-play, 80-yard drive that took 6:55 off the clock, ended with Richardson two-yard dive, his 30th touchdown of the season to set a (then) FCS record, to make it 28-17. The Minutemen's desperation drive ended with a Lynch interception and the repeat was finalized.
The 2006 Mountaineers are one of the best FCS teams of all time like 1989 Georgia Southern, 1996 Marshall and 2013 North Dakota State. The ability to run the football, get key turnovers, score points and win football games resembles the current FBS Mountaineers a good deal. The 2015/2016 Apps versus the 2006 version, that would be a heck of a game.