Appalachian State, Villanova Could Produce An Instant Classic
The FCS quarterfinals have had a number of tight finishes through the years. Appalachian State and Villanova could produce a similar thriller on Saturday
By David Coulson
Executive Editor/Managing Partner
College Sporting News
BOONE, N.C. — One of the greatest things about the Football Championship Subdivision is that it isn't implausible to get a lift to your car from Appalachian State coach Jerry Moore, or to share a cup of hot chocolate with Villanova coach Andy Talley.
These two FCS coaching veterans, who will meet on the field of battle for the first time on Saturday afternoon, share one thing in common besides their successful tenures.
They are both as down-to-earth as they were when they started in the coaching business many years before any of their current players were even alive.
Between them, Moore and Talley have won 441 career games, 386 at the FCS level. In fact, Moore goes for his 200th win at Appalachian State on Saturday.
They have also combined to guide their individual schools to four of the past five Division I Football Championships. The only other champion during that period, Richmond, had to knock off ASU on the way to its title and lost to Villanova during that same 2008 season.
When the 2010 championship bracket was announced a couple of weeks ago, most fans couldn't help but peak ahead and contemplate a clash of these FCS titans in, arguably, one of the most anticipated quarterfinal-round matches in the 33-year history of the playoffs.
Ironically, while separated by nine hours of turnpike, interstate and mountain roads between the western suburbs of Philadelphia and the vacation resort of Boone, there is a mutual respect and even friendship shared by these two heavyweights.
Before the 2007 season, Talley sent offensive coordinator Sam Venuto and the rest of his offensive staff to spring practice at ASU to study how the Mountaineers ran their version of the spread.
Venuto and his staff became fast friends with then-ASU quarterback coach Scott Satterfield, then-offensive line coach Shawn Elliott, Chris Moore and Mark Speir, among others.
Telley made no bones about the fact that he thought the Mountaineers were the most dangerous team he team might face in the 2009 playoffs. Even after ASU dropped a 24-17 decision to Montana in last season's semifinals — ironically on a dropped fourth-down at the goal line — the Villanova coach thought the Wildcats had drawn an easier assignment against the Grizzlies in the championship game.
Villanova went on to beat Montana 23-21 with a patented comeback from a 14-3 deficit.
"Montana would have been about the third-best team in the CAA last season," Talley said at one of his recent weekly press luncheons.
Finally Talley will get his shot at the Mountaineers. And ASU will get to line up against the Wildcats.
If this game lives up to this week's hype, it might be remembered as an instant classic.
While it is championship games that people generally remember the most, there have been some pretty incredible quarterfinals through the years.
Those of us with short memories might think of last year's round of eight game between Appalachian State and Richmond, the final football game at UR Stadium.
After linebacker Eric McBride lifted the defending national champion Spiders to the lead by ripping the ball away from Travaris Cadet on a punt return and scooted into the end zone to give Richmond the lead, Armanti Edwards cooly led the Mountaineers back with a four-yard TD pass to Matt Cline with 10 seconds left for the 35-31 victory.
In 1995, ASU was a perfect 12-0 when it met Stephen F. Austin in the quarterfinals. A first down or two away from wrapping up a hard-fought 17-13 victory, the Mountaineers came up short on third and short and had to punt.
SFA quarterback James Ritchey disobeyed a direct order from his coaches not to change plays on an ASU blitz on a audible and hit Chris Jefferson for a game-altering 49-yard gain just as he was buried by linebackers Dexter Coakley and Joe DiBernardo.
The Lumberjacks scored a few plays later and added another late TD for a 27-13 win.
Villanova fans remember a couple of heartbreaking quarterfinal losses.
The Wildcats were the top-seed in the 1997 playoffs with wide receiver Brian Finneran, running back Brian Westbrook and quarterback Chris Boden leading a high-powered attack.
But after 12 consecutive wins, the Wildcats were stunned by Jim Tressel and Youngstown State 37-34 as the Penguins rallied for 23 straight points. YSU went on to beat McNeese State 10-9 in the title contest.
"That was the worst post-game locker room I've ever been in," said Talley.
A couple of other 12-0 teams survived great quarterfinal games to advance forward.
Villanova suffered through a 31-27 loss to undefeated James Madison in 2008 when quarterback Rodney Landers scored on a one-yard plunge with 1:38 remaining.
Western Illinois had to have flashbacks last weekend in the snow at Appalachian State. The Leathernecks hadn't been in the playoffs since 2003, when they lost in the quarterfinals to undefeated Colgate 28-27 during a blizzard.
A dynamic, late punt return by Luke Graham set up Payton Award winner Jamaal Branch for a short touchdown run to give the Raiders their final lead.
Massachusetts fans will recall a fourth-down interception against Payton Award-winning, New Hampshire quarterback Ricky Santos helping the Minutemen hold off the UNH Wildcats 24-17.
Four quarterfinals through the years have gone to at least one overtime period, two of them going to triple-overtime.
Middle Tennessee State needed three overtimes to stop Indiana State 42-41 in 1984.
Nevada-Reno played three overtimes to defeat Furman 42-35 in 1990 and then played three more overtimes the next week in the semifinals to hang on for a 59-53 win against Boise State.
UNR had only needed one OT to beat North Texas State 20-17 in 1983.
During the 1981 playoffs, South Carolina State edged Tennessee State 26-25 in one overtime.
In 2004, the quarterfinals featured two one-point decisions.
Quarterback Dustin Long passed Sam Houston State to a big comeback to skate past Eastern Washington 35-34.
Justin Rascati of JMU led the Dukes on a late drive, with several third-down conversions to beat Furman 14-13 after the Paladins had a field goal blocked that would have clinched the game. The Paladins also missed an extra point and fumbled away a touchdown at the goal line as a running back was going untouched into the end zone.
James Madison used those breaks to roll to the FCS title with wins ove William & Mary and Montana.
In 1990, Georgia Southern survived a 28-27 scare against Idaho on the way to winning a championship for coach Tim Stowers a couple of weeks later.
Another one-point quarterfinal decision was won by Northeast Louisiana (33-32 over Eastern Kentucky) in 1987. Now known as Louisiana-Monroe, the Stan Humphries-quarterbacked-club needed another one-point win over Marshall (43-42) to win the championship game that year.
The first one-point win in the round of eight was Tennessee State's 20-19 decision against Eastern Illinois in 1982.
Eastern Illinois was on the wrong side of a two-point loss to Eastern Kentucky in 1986 and quarterback Dave Dickenson started building his playoff legend for Montana with a 30-28 quarterfinal-round victory against McNeese State in 1994.
Youngstown State has been no stranger to tight playoff wins, including a 30-28 triumph against Nevada-Reno in 1991, two weeks before beating Marshall for the Penguins' first of four national championships.
There have also been a number of three-point wins in the quarterfinals over the years.
With Appalachian State and Villanova meeting at noon on Saturday in an ESPN television game, we can only hope that fans will be talking about this game for years to come, too.