||[Dec. 17th, 2005|04:11 pm]
Appalachian State University
John Russell/Associated Press
Appalachian State running back Kevin Richardson during the first quarter.
Appalachian State wins I-AA title
By David Coulson
Special to the News & Record
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. -- With an ailing offense and its championship hopes
on the ropes, Appalachian State put out an SOS to Jason Hunter and
Marques Murrell on Friday night and the All-American defensive ends
delivered a Division I-AA football title.
front of a record-setting crowd, Murrell swiped the ball away from
Northern Iowa quarterback Eric Sanders and Hunter scooped it up and ran
15 yards for a touchdown with 9:14 remaining to lift the Mountaineers
(12-3) to a 21-16 victory.
Hunter and Murrell hassled Sanders
all night -- the sophomore who joined the team as a walk-on finished
17-for-31 passing for 181 yards and was sacked five times -- and
Appalachian's defensive bookends combined together to turn the tide of
On a second-and-9 play from the Panthers 25, Sanders
dropped back from shotgun formation with the ball in his right hand.
Murrell knocked it away and Hunter grabbed it on one bounce with
nothing but open field in front of him.
"I saw the ball on the
ground. I tried to pick it up as fast as I could," said Hunter, who led
the team with 10 tackles and had two sacks.
Murrell also finished with two sacks.
Iowa's defense managed to throttle the Mountaineers' no-huddle spread
offense for most of the night, but the Panthers' own offense couldn't
make enough plays to win.
"It was a great night. It speaks
wonders for our program, our school," Appalachian State coach Jerry
Moore said. "I can't say enough about our defense. They were tenacious."
back David Horne led the Panthers with 22 carries for 102 yards and a
touchdown, but Northern Iowa didn't throw the ball well enough to score.
teams were in the title game for the first time, and Northern Iowa
(11-4) appeared to be en route to the trophy until the fourth quarter.
For the second week in a row, the Mountaineers held an opponent scoreless in the second half.
Appalachian State coaching staff gambled with Trey Elder at quarterback
in the first half, unsure about how effective All-American Richie
Williams would be with a badly sprained tendon in his left ankle.
after Elder struggled at quarterback, going 9-for-16 for 123 yards and
one interception in the first half, Williams provided an emotional lift
to the Mountaineers in the second half.
"It was frustrating.
Coach told me though that we were going to wing it," Williams said.
"Coach called option one time and I called timeout because I knew I
could not run the play."
Williams finished just 10-for-26
passing for 129 yards, but he led the Mountaineers on a nine-play,
79-yard drive to pull Appalachian with two points with 6:05 left in the
During the driver, the cagey senior completed
passes of 13 yards to Dexter Jackson, 19 yards to Brandon Turner and 31
yards to Zach Johnson (six catches for a career-high 101 yards) on a
play where Johnson outwrestled Dre Dokes for the ball.
pass interference call on Dokes moved the ball to the 2, Richardson
smashed over the goal line to make it 16-14. That score held until
Murrell and Hunter made their big plays.
Elder managed only one
sustained drive in the first half, leading the Mountaineers on a
nine-play, 64-yard drive. Kevin Richardson got bottled up on a counter,
but bounced to the opposite side to squirt into the end zone for a
5-yard touchdown as Appalachian took a 7-6 lead with 13:18 left in the
Only the play of Appalachian's defense kept the
Mountaineers close in the first half. The Mountaineers committed three
turnovers, two on fumbles by Dexter Jackson and Trey Hennessee and one
on a Trey Elder interception.
Northern Iowa converted those miscues into 13 points and a 16-7 halftime lead.
Panthers struggled in the red zone, scoring only one touchdown when
David Horne powered over from the 2 to finish a four-play, 41-yard
drive following strong safety Tanner Varner's interception on a poorly
thrown Elder pass on an out pattern.
"It's disappointing, of
course, but at the same time we've had a great season with a great
group of players," Panthers coach Mark Farley said. "It's a game of
inches, and in this one we didn't have the inches fall in our
Friday night's attendance -- 20,236, a scant 430
short of a sellout -- was a Finley Stadium record and the largest I-AA
championship crowd since the game moved from Marshall in 1997.
Appalachian State's gold-and-black clad fans swarmed over the wall and mobbed the field as time ran out.
The Associated Press contributed to this report