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App State’s Surprise Run At the 2005 1AA National Championship

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Appalachian State surprised people with a 2005 title run that would earn the program its first of three consecutive national championships.

Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

The turn of the century brought success to the Jerry Moore led Mountaineers as the team finished with at least 10 wins for just the third time in his tenure in the 2000 season.

However over the next four seasons wins would decrease each season and many people in Boone began to wonder if the team was headed in the right direction entering the 2005 season. All doubters would be proved wrong by December as Appalachian would earn its first national championship in program history.

Early Fall

App State entered the 2005 season unranked in the 1AA Sports Network Poll. Appalachian opened the season on the road against fellow 1AA member Eastern Kentucky. The game would be tight nit the whole way, as App only led 14-7 in the 2nd quarter thanks to a Jason Hunter fumble recovery for a touchdown early.

It would only take App State fifty seven seconds to score the first touchdown in the second-half, thanks to an 88 yard pass to WR Jermane Little from QB Richie Williams, as that would be the only score in the 3rd quarter to make it 21-7 App. Eastern Kentucky would open the 4th quarter with a field goal to make it 21-10 and follow with a touchdown late in the 4th but miss the 2pt conversion to come within a score at 21-16. Appalachian would then proceed to run the game clock down to 48 seconds and kicker Julian Rauch would knock down a 21 yard field goal attempt to seal the win for the Mountaineers.

Week two would see App back on the road, this time in Lawrence, Kansas to take on the Big 12’s Kansas Jayhawks. Kansas would out-man Appalachian, as the Jayhawks would rack up over 400 yards of offense and hold App scoreless until the 4th quarter in route to a 36-8 victory, dropping the Mountaineers to a 1-1 record.

Week three finally gave App State their first chance to play at Kid Brewer Stadium in 2005. The task seemed challenging on paper as the 17th ranked Chanticleers of Coastal Carolina made the five hour bus trip to Boone.

However, the App State defense came to play in front of a packed crowd of just over 23,000 people, as Jason Hunter would get his 2nd defensive score of the season by intercepting a Tyler Thigpin pass and taking it 25 yards to the house to put App in front 13-0. On offense RB Kevin Richardson would rack up 178 yards on 18 carries and three touchdowns to lead App to a 30-3 blowout to go 2-1.

SoCon Play Begins

Week four and five would see QB Richie Williams put together some impressive stats for the Mountaineers, but they would go 1-1 to start Southern Conference play. App would grab a 45-13 win over The Citadel, (thanks to three Williams touchdown passes) in week four. But week five would not bring the same success as App would fall to the 6th-ranked rival Furman 34-31 in a close one in Greenville.

After the close loss to Furman, Appalachian would return to Kid Brewer for two of the next three games. App would welcome rival Georgia Southern (who was ranked number 16) to The Rock on a Black Saturday affair that saw Appalachian rack up over 450 yards of offense in a 24-7 victory. The next week App would visit Gibbs Stadium to take on Wofford. It was another offensive explosion as the Apps would total 566 yards en route to a 49-17 win.

At 5-2 App St would play host to Chattanooga in week eight. App would fall behind early to UTC, but Richie Williams would score from three yards out to put App ahead 14-13 at the half. App would score three more touchdowns in the 2nd half to seal a 35-25 victory.

Appalachian State Mountaineers v LSU Tigers Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

The Final Stretch

November would see Appalachian return to the FBS ranks for a date against national power LSU. Once again on paper Appalachian had its work cut out for them against the 6th ranked Tigers. After the 1st quarter Appalachian showed they came to play and had 91,000 Tiger fans nervous when the scoreboard showed only a 7-0 LSU lead. At the half LSU only held a 14-0 advantage keeping things interesting.

App would come out in the 2nd half and drive down to the LSU 15 yard line but the drive would stall. To make matters worse App would miss their chance to put points on the board when Rauch would miss a 33-yard field goal. Appalachian would then become worn down by the bigger, stronger, faster Tigers and eventually fell by a respectful score of 24-0.

Appalachian State would close out the 2005 regular season with back-to-back blowout victories over ‘‘Old Mountain Jug” rival Western Carolina and SoCon rival Elon. Appalachian would capture ‘‘The Old Mountain Jug’’ against Western Carolina in front of a capacity crowd of over 25,000 people with a 35-7 win. The Apps would then finish off the regular season with a easy 52-14 win over The Phoenix of Elon, capping their regular season record at 8-3 and securing a SoCon championship with a conference record of 6-1.

The Championship Quest Begins

As the 1AA Playoffs began Appalachian was ranked 5th in the nation, good enough for a 2nd overall seed in the playoffs. First up was the Leopards of Lafayette. App struggled through the 1st half of play and fell behind 17-10 at the half. The defense, however, would ramp up the pressure in the 2nd half only giving up two field goals, while the offense would put together a 24 point 2nd half to claim a 34-23 victory.

The quarterfinals saw App State playing host to Southern Illinois at The Rock. App would never trail as they would win 38-24 and advance to the Semifinals. The semifinals couldn't have been scripted any better as App would take on the only team to deal them a loss in SoCon play, The Furman Paladins. Things appeared as if it might get ugly in Boone as App State jumped out to a 14-0 lead after the 1st quarter. Furman was not going to go away that easy as they scored 23 unanswered to lead 23-21 at the half.

It was a defensive battle in the 3rd quarter as neither team was able to score. The 4th quarter looked to be the same, until the 2:17 mark when Appalachian was able to punch it in from one yard out and execute a two point conversion to grab a 29-23 lead. Furman would have one final chance to play spoiler to the Mountaineers but it wasn't meant to be as Jason Hunter forced a fumble to seal the victory at 29-23 for App, punching their ticket to the 1AA title game in Chattanooga.

The stage was set on a cold December night in Chattanooga as App was set to take on Northern Iowa for the 1AA crown. Trey Elder would start the game at QB for a banged up Richie Williams and the Apps would struggle as Elder only completed nine passes in the 1st half, causing App to trail 16-7 at the break. Williams would return in the 2nd Half but would not do much better as he only managed 10 completions for 129 yards.

Kevin Richardson would score his 2nd touchdown on the night to put App within a field goal at 16-14. The game would be put away with just over nine minutes left in regulation and Appalachian down two points. NI QB Eric Sanders would drop back to pass and who else but Jason Hunter would step up when App needed him the most and come away with a strip score to make it 21-16. Northern Iowa was unable to recover as the App defense stood tall late in the game and Appalachian State would win its first ever national championship by a final score of 21-16, putting the cap on a remarkable 2005 season and beginning what would become a 1AA dynasty.