Appalachian State Looks To Cap 2012 Season With 12th League Title on “Black Saturday”

WHO: Furman (3-6, 2-4 SoCon) at No. 12 Appalachian State (7-3, 5-2 SoCon)

WHAT: “Black Saturday”

WHEN: Nov. 10, 2012, 3:30 p.m.

WHERE: Boone, N.C., Kidd Brewer Stadium (24,450)

BOONE, N.C.–Appalachian State didn’t have long to celebrate its monumental win over a top-ranked Georgia Southern (31-28) team for the second-straight season, as the Mountaineers now know that just one opponent stands between them and a share of a league-standard tying 12th league crown on Saturday after a crazy 10th week of SoCon football, which also saw Wofford fall in overtime at Samford (23-17) and Chattanooga come from behind to take down Western Carolina (45-24).

The opponent isn’t just anyone, either, and Mountaineer fans and players have been indoctrinated into what has been one of greatest the Southern Conference rivalries over the years, and that is the one with the Furman Paladins. Appalachian State hasn’t faced down the Palmetto State well on its home turf this season, suffering setbacks at the hands of The Citadel (52-28, Sept. 15) and most recently, Wofford (38-28, Oct. 20), with Furman trying to do something that has never been done since three teams from the Sandlapper State have called the league home.

Simply put, ASU has not gone 0-3 against the state of South Carolina’s league football members since Wofford, the latest of the trio from the Palmetto State gridders, since the latest addition to the league, Wofford, joined as an official gridiron member in 1997. The Mountaineers have also not lost three games on the home turf during the 11-game regular-season since 1979. In total this season, ASU is 1-3 against the state of South Carolina, picking up a 55-14 non-conference win over Coastal Carolina on Sept. 29.

Unlike the 2011 season, the Paladins aren’t playing to remain alive for the championship chase or even the postseason, as the Paladins have long since seen any hopes of a league title or a playoff berth disappear from view. What is at stake for Furman on Saturday is pride, and that pride remains in the fact that the program holds something no other league member can yet lay claim to, which is a league-best 12 Southern Conference titles. Since 1987, the Mountaineers have carved out their name into 11 Southern Conference title trophies, and on Saturday, they have a chance to win a 12th, which will tie the program lining up directly across from it on Saturday.

Furman has had its struggles in 2012, as the Paladins have never really found their rhythm this season, especially after the program’s first 0-3 since 1979, which put the Paladins behind the proverbial “eight-ball” to begin the campaign.

Meanwhile, with its 31-28 win in Statesboro last Saturday, ASU has now found its season and now has everything to play for in the most recent edition of this Southern Conference storied rivalry against one of the league’s most-storied rivalries. The Mountaineers dropped a 20-10 decision to Furman in Greenville last season, and despite wins over Western Carolina and Elon, the Mountaineers never seemed to be the same football team when it became apparent they were out of the Southern Conference championship chase.

Appalachian’s trip to Greenville last season was the start of Mountaineer season-ending tailspin, which would see the Mountaineers survive to get wins over Western Carolina (46-14) and Elon (28-24) before having its season end abruptly with a 34-12 opening-round setback at The Rock to Maine.

Saturday afternoon’s contest between the Paladins and Mountaineers conjures up great memories from both fanbases, with that of the Black and Gold variety enjoying more of the recent memories, beginning with the 2002 “Miracle on the Mountain.” Coming into Saturday’s showdown at The Rock between the two tradition-rich football programs, the Mountaineers have won 10 of the last 13 meetings between the programs since the turn of the century, with the Paladins’ win last season snapping a string of five-straight wins for the Black and Gold.

 Furman fans remember the Paladins enjoyed the two-decades plus, as the Paladins claimed 16 of the previous 23 meetings from 1977-99, with one tie occurring in that time period, as the two played to a 17-17 deadlock in Boone in 1986.

Like the Appalachian State-Georgia Southern we witnessed last week, this FCS and Southern Conference rivalry is yet another which is steeped in championships, tradition and memories that will be passed down for generations to come.

With ASU’s 31-28 win over league-leading Georgia Southern last week on the road, the 43rd renewal of the rivalry just got a lot more interesting.

One of the more interesting storylines heading into Saturday’s clash is former wideout Justin Stepp (2003-06), who now serves as the coach of the ASU receiving corps, which has become one of the top units in the FCS this season. Stepp finished ninth on the Paladins’ all-time receiving ledger, with 1,568 receiving yards, serving as Ingle Martin’s primary target in the 2005 campaign, which included that epic FCS semifinal clash in Boone that saw ASU take a 29-23 en route to its first of three national titles.

All that now stands between the Mountaineers and a league-standard tying 12th Southern Conference crown, is Furman, who has lost in its last eight trips to the High Country, dating back to the Bobby Johnson era, and a 20-14 win by the Paladins in the 1996 campaign.

The Rivalry: Few Southern Conference and FCS rivalries invoke the passion, pageantry and pride among its respective fanbases than the one between the Mountaineers and Paladins. Saturday’s meeting between the two will mark the 43rd all-time in the storied series, with Furman holding a 22-17-3 edge in the series.

Perhaps no other rivalry in the SoCon has as many moments associated with each respective programs’ history as the one between Appalachian State and Furman. While the 2002 meeting each program’s lore for obvious reasons, other meetings, such as the 1991 clash also will be remembered for the effect it left on both the rivalry and the overall direction of the two programs was a significant marker.

ASU and Furman came into the 1991 matchup, with Southern Conference title aspirations on the line, but it would be the Mountaineers who would walk away with a thrilling 26-23 overtime victory, which would ultimately catapult the Mountaineers to a second Southern Conference title, and first under the direction of current head coach Jerry Moore.

It was an epic battle between two SoCon juggernauts, and certainly a game that will go down in SoCon lore as one of the best games in league history. It also marked a milestone for the league, as the ’91 matchup between the two was the first-ever overtime matchup in league history.

One of the heroes on the afternoon for the Mountaineers was placekicker Jay Millson, who connected on four field goals. ASU found itself trailing, 17-9, at the halftime break in what was an opening half that was sluggish on both sides.

The Black and Gold defensive unit would get it back into the contest, with the momentum-changing play coming from linebacker Brent David late in the fourth quarter, as David forced a fumble to give the Mountaineers the football at the Paladin 17. After Nate Abraham found the end zone ran it in for a quick score, talented quarterback D.J. Campbell followed with a short two-point conversion pass to A.J. Mills, tying the game, 17-17.

It would be two of the nation’s best placekickers who would take over during the overtime session, as ASU’s Millson and Furman’s Andrew Burr (the only player in Furman history to garner All-America honors in two sports, as a standout placekicker and soccer player), exchanged field goals in the first two overtime periods, as it stood, 23-23, after two overtimes played.

In the third extra period, as has been the case many times in this series, it would be the ASU special teams that would make a huge play that would allow the Mountaineers the chance to win it with their possession following. Steve Wilks broke through the line and blocked a third attempt from Burr, meaning the Campbell-led ASU offense needed only another Millson field goal to capture the win and a strong grip on the ’91 Southern Conference title.

Millson would make good on his fourth field goal of the day to deliver the Mountaineer victory. Back-to-back losses to Marshall (38-35) and Appalachian State (26-23, 3 OT) would bring an end to a string of three-straight Paladin SoCon titles.

Furman would get its revenge against the Mountaineers a year later in Boone in what was another hotly-contested game, and one that still grates on the nerves of Mountaineer fans. A 50-yard field goal as time expired by Furman’s Jim Richter would be the difference, as the Paladins came home from the High Country with a 16-13 win. The field goal was set up by a late-hit, personal foul penalty on Sean Swoope, which still serves as a talking point among Appalachian fans.

Furman would get its last win in Boone in 1996, on a day that the Paladins came to the High Country and came away with a 20-14 win over ASU.

It would be a rare playoff miss for Appalachian State, which featured the likes of arguably the best linebacker in FCS history, in Dexter Coakley, and one of the best running backs in school history, in the school’s fourth all-time leading rusher, Damon Scott, as the Mountaineers finished out the ’96 season with a 7-4 overall record and a 5-3 mark in league play for a fourth-place finish in the league.

The Mountaineers would only taste victory once more against the Paladins to close the decade, with the Paladins claiming victories in Greenville in ’97 (24-22) and ’99 (35-21). The ’99 win by the Paladins would help the program garner a share of the league crown for the first time in nine years, and would help force a three-way tie atop the league standings between Furman, Georgia Southern and Appalachian State.

The Mountaineers’ final win over Furman of the 20th century came in 1998, as the Apps picked up a 26-13 win in Boone, beginning what has now become a winning streak of eight-straight in the High Country.

The meeting between the two teams in 2000 was also one of the more memorable clashes between the two programs in the history of the rivalry.

The Paladins and Mountaineers would play the first of three one-point decisions over the next four meetings, as ASU picked up a dramatic 18-17 win over the Paladins, coming on the heels of the Mountaineer bus accident.

On the way back to Boone from Johnson City, Tenn., a week earlier, an ASU van carrying some team video personnel and some student trainers, collided with a truck that swerved into their lane, causing a fire inside the van carrying the video personnel and team managers.

Fortunately, the buses carrying Mountaineer football players and coaches weren’t far behind, allowing former assistants Stacey Searels, Rob Best and Shawn Elliott to become “Appalachian Heroes” as the trio of coaches actually ripped seats out of the van to rescue some of the ASU team that were pinned behind the seats with the fire being a very real threat.

For the efforts of Searels, Elliott and Best, the staff was able to prevent any tragedy and garner the NCAA’s prestigious Valor Award. Some the staff were able to listen or watch at the hospital the following Saturday, getting an emotional 18-17 win over the Paladins. What made the win even more impressive for the Apps was the fact that the Mountaineers had to rebound from a 14-3 deficit in the contest to get the win.

These are just a few of the matchups that highlight the series, not including the 2002-05 matchups, which saw some of those most bizarre, epic finishes in the history of college football.

Game Preview: Appalachian State is hitting on all cylinders offensively as of late, and the Mountaineers bring one of the most potent offenses in the FCS  and enter with a nationally top-10 ranked offense. Coming into the regular-season finale, the Black and Gold ranks 10th nationally in total offense (464.0 YPG), 23rd in scoring offense (32.5 PPG), 18th in passing offense (280.3 YPG) and 32nd in rushing offense (184.3 YPG).

More impressive the season averages of four offensive categories mentioned above, however, might have been what the Mountaineers were able to do this past Saturday against one of the nation’s elite defensive units, in Georgia Southern. The Black and Gold compiled an impressive 452 yards of offense in Saturday’s win at GSU, which is the most yards yielded by the Eagles to an opponent this season.

The Mountaineers put up 386 passing yards, and it was the league’s top signal-caller, Jamal Jackson (203-of-315 passing, 2,573 yds, 18 TDs, 7 INTs/103 rush att, 373 yds, 5 TDs, 3.6 YPC), who put in an outstanding effort to lead the Apps to the come-from-behind road win.  At less than 100-percent mobility-wise, it was Jackson’s arm that proved to be the most lethal to the GSU defense, finishing the afternoon connecting on 21-of-34 passes for 383 yards and four TDs, in leading ASU to its second win over the No.1-ranked Eagles in successive seasons.

Jackson will likely enter Saturday’s matchup against the Paladins still somewhat hampered by a minor knee injury he suffered early in ASU win at Western Carolina a couple of weeks ago.  Jackson is putting together one of the best individual seasons by a Mountaineer quarterback in school history, ranking among the top 10 in virtually every single-season mark among former ASU field generals.

With just 54 yards on Saturday, Jackson will join some elite company by becoming just the eighth player in school history to amass 3,000 yards of total offense in a single season. In the Mountaineer loss at Furman last season, Jackson connected on 29-of-44 passes for 312 yards and tossed a couple of INTs.

Logan Hallock (20-of-21 passing, 230 yds, 2 TDs/10 rush att, 18 yds, 1.8 YPC), who set a school-record by completing 20-of-21 passes a couple of weeks ago in the win at Western Carolina, could also log some action on Saturday, but expect Jackson to go the full way if he is healthy.

Jackson might have the best corps of receivers in all of the FCS, with a quartet of wide receivers that offers an excellent mix of reliability, athleticism, experience and speed.

The athleticism, speed and reliability can be found in two of the nation’s top freshmen wideouts, in redshirt freshman Sean Price (58 rec, 914 yds, 8 TDs, 15.8 YPR) and true freshman Malachi Jones (29 rec, 296 yds, 1 TD, 10.6 YPR).

Price has simply been sensational this season for the Apps, entering Saturday’s game on the verge of a couple of NCAA freshman receiving marks. In fact, he’s likely the front-runner for the The Sports Network’s Jerry Rice Award, which is given to the nation’s top freshman player.

He needs just 13 receptions and 159 receiving yards to set new marks in those two respective categories for new milestones for a freshman receiver. The most amazing aspect of Price’s astounding freshman season is that he has played in just eight games this season for ASU.

Former Cal State Northridge wideout David Amerson currently holds the record for receptions (71), while former SoCon standout receiver Randy Moss (Marshall, 1996) holds the all-time mark for receiving yards (1,073).

Price has had many strong performances this season, but he saved the best for a top-ranked Georgia Southern team last week, as he hauled in seven passes for 231 yards and a TD, including a 67-yard scoring catch late in the second quarter. The receiving effort was the most ever for an ASU freshman receiver, and ranked as the most ever against Georgia Southern since it re-started its football program in 1982.  Price was named the Sports Network’s National Player of the Week, as well as being the Southern Conference’s Freshman and Offensive Player of the Week. Price will start at the ‘X’ receiver position on Saturday against the Paladins.

Jones has also had an outstanding season catching the football for the Apps, and was vital to the receiving efforts for ASU last week, hauling in his first TD pass as a Mountaineer in the 31-28 win at Paulson Stadium. He might be ASU’s most sure-handed wideout, and had his best receiving performance in the opener at East Carolina, with seven catches for 69 yards. He had four receptions for 22 yards in the win at Georgia Southern last week. Jones will start at the ‘Z ‘wide receiver position on Saturday.

Adding valuable experience to those trio of attributes mentioned above are Andrew Peacock (57 rec, 586 yds, 2 TDs, 10.3 YPR) and Tony Washington (32 rec, 423 yds, 3 TDs, 13.2 YPR/7 rush att, 61 yds, 2 TDs, 8.1 YPC), who both turned in solid performances in the 20-10 loss at Furman last season. Peacock,  a cerebral wideout, will start for the Apps at the “M” wide receiver position for the Mountaineers on Saturday. Peacock had a nice performance against the Paladins in Greenville last season, hauling in six passes for 72 yards in the loss, which is the exact total Peacock produced both receptions and yards-wise in last week’s win at Georgia Southern.

Blessed with speed, route-running skills and a tremendous pair of hands, Peacock might be ASU’s most-polished wide receiver. For his career, the veteran has 92 catches for 987 yards and four TDs.

Washington is an extremely versatile running threat in his own right, posting skills as a receiver, running threat, and one of the league’s best kick return weapons.  Washington has scored a TD on all three of those aforementioned strengths, which includes a 22-yard rushing TD in the 52-28 loss to The Citadel and a 100-yard kickoff return in the 38-28 home loss to Wofford.

a kick return threat this season, Washington is averaging 28.4 yards-per-return. In the 20-10 loss to Furman last season, Washington hauled in seven passes for 59 yards to lead the Apps in receptions on the afternoon.  Washington had a 23-yard third-quarter scoring catch in the win over GSU, which proved to be the game-winner and the only ASU score of the second half in the 31-28 triumph. He will start at the “Y” wide receiver position against Furman Saturday.

One of the players that has really stepped up and played a big role in the ASU offense this season is tight end Drew Bailey (6 rec, 85 yds, 2 TDs, 14.2 YPR). It was Bailey that had some monster shoes coming into the season, as he had to replace one of the best tight ends in ASU history, in Ben Jorden. Bailey’s diving TD catch in a 55-14 win over Coastal Carolina earlier this season showed that he has capable hands and can be a very real threat in the ASU passing attack.

The running game has been spearheaded by Steven Miller (197 rush att, 1,137 yds, 10 TDs, 5.8 YPC/27 rec, 351 yds, 4 TDs, 13.0 YPR), who is simply having a sensational campaign for the Black and Gold. Miller is maybe the most versatile player on the offensive side of the ball for the Mountaineers, being a threat both in the ground game, as well as the passing attack, ranking second on the team in receiving scores.

Miller was instrumental in the win at Georgia Southern last week, as he battled to rush for 60 yards on nine carries, while also hauling in a couple of passes for 23 yards.

Miller needed just nine games to get to 1,000 rushing yards on the campaign, becoming the 14th player and 12th running back in school history to accomplish the impressive milestone.

Miller is only the fifth ASU running back in history to have multiple 200-yard rushing efforts in the same season, with the last to do being Armanti Edwards back in 2007. In the 20-10 loss at Furman last season, Miller rushed once for -1 yard.

Helping saddle at least some of the rushing load for ASU on Saturday and this season has been senior power running back Rod Chisholm (37 rush att, 148 yds, 1 TD, 4.0 YPC). Chisholm suffered a broken hand in the opener against East Carolina, forcing him to miss a month of the season.

When dust has long settled on the 2012 season, one of the storylines the media will look to as being an element that saw a stark improvement on the offensive side of the ball will be the offensive line.  The unit has battled through injuries, suspensions and even played injured at times, but has been the reason the Mountaineers find themselves in line to control their own destiny in regards to a 12th Southern Conference crown.

The Mountaineers have allowed 17 sacks this season, with 12 of those coming in the past four ballgames, mostly as a result of injuries and different combos along the offensive front.  In 10 games this season, ASU has played five different alignments along the offensive front.

The unit has been anchored this season by Kendall Lamm at left tackle, who enters Saturday’s game in line to make his 17th start in 18 games played as a Mountaineer, including making his seventh-straight start this season. His lone missed start came earlier this season against Chattanooga, when he missed the game as a result of a concussion. Lamm was ASU’s lone preseason All-SoCon selection on the offensive line.

Joining Lamm at tackle on Saturday will be sophomore Will Corbin, who will be making the eighth start of his career on Saturday. Corbin stepped into the lineup when Regan Dufort was deemed ineligible by the NCAA for a legally prescribed banned substance, which the school is appealing and should win. Corbin has held down the right tackle spot ever since and has put in a yeoman-like effort this season.

Rounding out the starters along the offensive front for ASU will be Tucker Lee (RG), Shaq Counts (LG) and Graham Fisher (C). With injuries to Alex Acey,who played center and guard for the Mountaineers this season, as well as guard Ian Barnard, the Mountaineers have had to shift some things across the offensive front, including moving Fisher from guard to center, while moving Lee from tackle to guard. Lee will be making just his third start of his career on Saturday against the Paladins.

Fisher is the most versatile ASU offensive lineman, with the savvy to play virtually any position along the ASU offensive front, and that same attribute has also served him well as one of ASU’s offensive leaders this season. Coming into Saturday’s game against the Paladins, ASU is averaging 6.4 yards-per-play, including 4.8 per-rush-attempt.

Furman comes into Saturday’s contest against the Mountaineers, having struggled through the early-portion of the 2012 schedule, but the Paladins have seemingly gotten their act together as of late on the defensive side of the football. Coming into its 10th game of the 2012 football season, the Paladins rank 78th nationally in total defense (393.0 YPG), 77th in scoring defense (29.2 PPG), 65th in rushing defense (159.2 YPG) and 81st in passing defense (233.8 YPG).

The Paladins also rank fourth in the league and 37th nationally in sacks-per-game, as they enter the Black Saturday contest averaging 2.22 SPG. The Paladins recorded seven sacks the last time out against Elon. Furman’s seven sacks against the Phoenix were the most in a single game since the 2001 playoffs, when the Paladins amassed nine quarterback hits in an FCS quarterfinal win over Lehigh.

The primary strength of the Furman pass-rush this season has been its defensive line, with two veteran defensive ends, in senior Josh Lynn (32 tackles, 5.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks, 1 FF) and junior Shawn Boone (19 tackles, 5.0 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 1 FF, 1 FR).

Both Boone and Lynn are powerful and athletic, and both have had solid seasons, respectively, in getting to the quarterback. In the 20-10 win over the Mountaineers in Greenville last season, Boone recorded a sack, while Lynn recovered a crucial fumble.

Another player that has been a difference-maker as of late along the Paladin defensive front as a reserve bookend has been Ricky Lang (18 tackles, 6.0 TFL, 5.0 sacks, 1 FF). Lang has good quickness and strength, and he is coming off a performance, which saw him post a pair of sacks in the win over Elon last time out. His six tackles-for-loss are tied for the team lead, while his five sacks lead the club.

Set to start on the defensive interior for the Paladins will be veterans Colton Keig (34 tackles, 2.0 TFL) and Neal Rodgers (26 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 0.5 sack). Both Keig and Rodgers have been strong inside against the run this season, having helped Furman field a solid rush defense up the middle this season. Keig had a couple of tackles against the Mountaineers last season, while Rodgers missed the game with an injury.

The Paladins lost two solid, veteran linebackers to graduation last season, with the losses of Kadarron Anderson and Chris Wiley.

This season, however, Furman has fielded one of the more underrated corps of linebackers in the Southern Conference this season, with strong side linebacker Mitch McGrath (65 tackles, 6.0 TFL, 1.0 sack, 2 INTs, 3 PBUs, 1 FF, 1 FR) being one of the big hitters/playmakers on this Paladin defense.

McGrath, a senior from Longwood, TX, is putting together yet another strong season, in what is his second as a starter at outside linebacker. McGrath is one of the more opportunistic players on the defensive side of the ball for the Paladins, and comes into Saturday’s contest with seven-career INTs.

In the win over ASU in Greenville last season, McGrath was instrumental in a defensive performance that saw the Paladins hold ASU to its lowest point total in the storied rivalry in 21 years, as he recorded 13 tackles, a tackle-for-loss and an INT. His 13-tackle performance against the Mountaineers last season tied a career-high.

Joining the All-SoCon linebacker as a part of the Paladin starting trio of LBs will be weakside linebacker Gary Wilkins (76 tackles, 4.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks, 1 PBU, 1 blkd kick, 1 FF) and middle linebacker Matt Solomon (73 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 1.0 sack, 3 PBUs). Wilkins leads the team in tackles this season, and he enters the Black Saturday matchup ranking tied for 11th in the league in tackles (8.3 tackles-per-game). Wilkins is one of the bigger hitters on the Paladin defense, as well as being one of the best athletes on the Paladin defense. He posted five tackles and 0.5 TFL in last year’s Paladin victory over ASU.

Solomon, a senior from Tyrone, GA, is in his first season as a starter at middle linebacker for the Paladins and is maybe the surest tackler on the squad, as well as being one the unit’s most physical performers. Solomon had to wait three years for his opportunity to start in the middle for the Paladins behind Kadarron Anderson.

The biggest struggles on the defensive side of the football for the Paladins this season have come in the secondary. Appalachian State fans know how important a player like Ryan Steed was to the Paladin defense last season, as the Mountaineers found out first hand, limiting to second round NFL Draft pick Brian Quick to just 60 yards receiving, while also picking off a pass on ASU’s first drive, which proved to be a huge play in the win for the Paladins in looking back at that game.

But with Steed’s graduation, the Paladins have struggled all season at cornerback. Set to man the two corner positions on Saturday afternoon will be true freshman Reggie Thomas (21 tackles, 3.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks, 1 INT, 2 PBUs) and junior Austin Williams (13 tackles, 2 PBUs). The Paladins have seen a number of combinations at the position this season, but Saturday will mark the third-straight game which will see the Thomas-Williams combo.

Thomas is an impressive freshman and one of the fastest players on the Furman defense, likely drawing the tough assignment of trying to slow ASU redshirt freshman Sean Price on Saturday.

The Paladins have three of the better safeties in the league, with one of those safeties, reserve strong safety Marcus McMorris (29 tackles, 3.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks, 1 INT, 1 FR, 2 TDs), garnering Southern Conference Defensive Player of the Week honors after returning a fumble 95 yards for a score, recording a pair of tackles and a sack in the 31-17 Paladin win at Elon.

McMorris’ 95-yard return for a score was a school-record for a fumble return, eclipsing the 94-yard yard fumble return for a score by Kevin Quinlan against North Carolina in 1980. McMorris had a 52-yard INT return for a score against Western Carolina in a 45-24 win over the Catamounts earlier this season.

Set to start at the two safety positions on Saturday are a pair of players that entered the 2012 campaign as preseason All-SoCon selections. Strong safety Greg Worthy (61 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 1 PBU) and free safety Nathan Wade (63 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 1 INT, 2 PBUs) were preseason all-league picks, and both were huge factors in the Paladins’ 20-10 win over the Mountaineers last season.

In the win over ASU last season, Wade posted a career-best 17 stops and a TFL, while Worthy made one of the most athletic plays of the game to squelch an ASU scoring threat, batting away a pass intended for Ben Jorden in the corner of the end zone, which allowed Steed to make the interception to end the scoring threat. Worthy also contributed 12 tackles and a TFL in the contest. Both Wade and Worthy are big hitters in the Paladin secondary.

 

The Appalachian State defense has struggled this season, but despite surrendering 592 yards to Georgia Southern last week in a loss, the Mountaineers did enough to ensure the win. Coming into Saturday afternoon’s contest, the Mountaineers enter ranking 95th nationally in total defense (424.0 YPG), 71st in scoring defense (28.6 PPG), 62nd in passing defense (214.6 YPG) and 103rd in rush defense (209.4 YPG).

To give you an idea of the type of experience that ASU has on the defensive side of the football, the Mountaineers have three players on the defensive side of the football with 200 or more tackles (Jeremy Kimbrough 280; Brandon Grier 234 and Troy Sanders 215). In 2008, the ASU trio of D.J. Smith, Pierre Banks and Jacque Roman marked the last trio of Mountaineer defenders to boast 200 or more tackles as starters on an ASU defense.

The Mountaineers, which will operate out of a 3-4 defensive alignment on Saturday, have maybe the top linebacking corps in the Southern Conference heading into Saturday’s contest against the Paladins.

Headlining the unit entering Saturday’s contest will be the two inside linebackers, which are slated to be two of the very best in college football, in Jeremy Kimbrough (111 tackles, 8.0 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 1 INT) and Brandon Grier (63 tackles, 8.0 TFL, 6.0 sacks, 1 INT, 2 FR, 1 FF, 1 TD).

Kimbrough and Grier are two of the most experienced players on the defensive side of the ball, with Kimbrough entering the campaign as a strong candidate for the Buck Buchanan Award, which is given annually to the best defensive player in the FCS.

Up until an injury sidelined him a few weeks ago in ASU’s 38-28 loss to Wofford, Grier had been the key cog in the Mountaineer defensive unit so far this season, and even had a 70-yard INT return for a score against Chattanooga to help seal a victory in the Scenic City early on in league play. Grier is a sure tackler, and an excellent athletic presence on the interior of the Mountaineer defense. In the loss at Furman last season, Grier was able to post 11 tackles and a TFL to lead the Apps in the losing effort.

Kimbrough enters the contest as the leading tackler in the Southern Conference, having posted 111 tackles this season, and also ranks second in the SoCon in tackles-per-game, averaging 11.1 tackles-per-game. He is the leader of the Mountaineer defense, and coming into Saturday afternoon’s Black Saturday meeting with the Paladins, has seven double-digit tackle performances this season, including 10 tackles in last Saturday’s win at Georgia Southern. He posted nine tackles, a TFL and recovered a fumble in the 20-10 loss to the Paladins last season.

The two starters at the respective outside linebacker positions for the Apps on Saturday will be Joel Ross (40 tackles, 5.0 TFL, 1 INT, 1 FR, 2 TDs) and either Adam Scott (19 tackles, 6.0 TFL, 5.0 sacks, 1 FF) or Deuce Robinson (35 tackles, 4.0 TFL, 1.0 sack, 1 PBU).  Ross has been one of those “McGrath-like” playmakers on the defensive side of the football for the Apps this season, having registered an INT return for a score in the win at Samford, while registering a fumble return for a TD in a loss to Wofford.

Robinson and Scott have been instrumental in getting pressure on opposing QBs from the edge this season, with Scott recording three of his team-leading five sacks this season in ASU’s 28-25 come-from-behind win over Samford a few weeks back. For Robinson this season, he has battled through injuries to become one of the more disruptive players on the ASU defense this season, getting effective pressure from the edge, and though he doesn’t have the sack totals of Scott, he has proven to be just as effective in forcing opposing offenses to improvise on the fly.  

The ASU defensive front is among the youngest in the FCS this season, starting two freshmen and a sophomore along the front.

The leader of that defensive front rotation this fall has been sophomore defensive end Ronald Blair (57 tackles, 8.5 TFL, 3.0 sacks, 1 FR), who has turned a bit of a slow start this season, into an all-league campaign.

Blair has quickness and power at one of the bookend positions for the Black and Gold on Saturday, and he has been one of the main cogs in the pass-rush for the Mountaineers this season.

In the loss at Furman last season, Blair recorded three tackles and half-a-tackle-for-loss.

Joining Blair at defensive end for the Mountaineers on Saturday will be redshirt freshman Davante Harris (26 tackles, 4.5 TFL), who has had a solid season starting along the defensive front for the Apps. Harris, like his counterpart Blair, possesses good athleticism and power along the defensive front for the Mountaineers.

Rounding out the starters along the defensive line on Saturday for the Mountaineers will be true freshman Stephen Burns (32 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 1 FF, 2 FRs), who was so instrumental in ASU’s win over Georgia Southern last week. His ability to close up the middle against the fullback dive was critical for the Mountaineer defense last week, as ASU made enough plays on the defensive side of the football to come out with the win.

The third line of the ASU defense is an experienced group, with veterans Troy Sanders (65 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 0.5 sack, 2 INTs, 1 FF) and Demetrius McCray (46 tackles, 3 INTs, 0.5 TFL, 4 PBUs, 1 FF) anchoring the defensive backfield for the Apps. Sanders is the most-experienced player on the ASU defense, and will start at the strong safety position for the Black and Gold on Saturday, and he is one of the most physical players on the ASU defense.

Sanders will be making his 36th-straight start for the Black and Gold on Saturday. He is the only player on the squad that has started every game for the Mountaineers since the beginning of the 2010 season, and comes into Saturday’s matchup ranking second on the team in tackles. Sanders is one of the more physical players on the ASU defense,  and last season against Furman, he posted  four tackles and an INT.

McCray is one of the best cover-corners in the Southern Conference, and he entered the season as a Buck Buchanan Award candidate, and will likely be asked to be give support against the powerful Paladin ground attack on Saturday, as one of the more successful plays for the Paladins is the toss-sweep to the perimeter. He is one of only two players in the SoCon this season with two or more INTs in a game, recording a pair of picks in ASU’s 35-27 win over Montana. McCray registered three stops in the  loss to the Paladins last season.

Rounding out the starters on the ASU defense heading into Saturday’s contest will be free safety Patrick Blalock (51 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 2 INTs, 4 PBUs, 1 FF) and cornerback Jamill Lott (34 tackles, 2 INTs, 1.0 TFL, 1 FF, 2 PBUs). Lott is athletic and opportunistic, and was actually moved to cornerback from free safety after making the transition from free safety after season-ending injuries to both Dante Blackmon and Doug Middleton.

Blalock is another player that has shined in the ASU secondary this season, and for the first time in his career in the ASU defensive backfield, has remained healthy, and provided steady play at free safety for the Mountaineers this season. He is one of four players on the ASU defense with two or more INTs this season.

Furman brings an offense into the Black Saturday matchup that has been inconsistent this season, but the Paladins have been effective moving the football against pretty much anyone when running their pro-style/I-Formation offense.

The Paladins might be the most physical team up fr0nt of any of the ground-oriented offensive attacks in the Southern Conference, and that includes the three triple-option teams the Mountaineers have faced this season.

Coming into Saturday’s matchup, the Paladins come in ranking 51st nationally in total offense (383.9 YPG), 67th in scoring offense (24.9 PPG), 43rd in rushing offense (172.2 YPG) and 60th in passing offense (211.7 YPG).

Like the Mountaineers’ Price, the Paladins have a Jerry Rice Award candidate of their own, in starting true freshman signal-caller Reese Hannon (135-of-214 passing, 1,656 yds, 6 TDs, 5 INTs). Hannon started out strong, but has recorded TD passes in three of the eight games he has played in this season, with four of his six scoring tosses coming against Coastal Carolina in a triple-overtime loss.

Hannon, who is the cousin of former Paladin standout Justin Hill (1996-00), has been held without a TD pass in his last four starts. Hannon has been solid all season under center for the Paladins, and he operates in the Furman offense unlike a true freshman in the Paladin, and has proven to be one of the best decision-making signal-callers in the SoCon.

During his prep career, Hannon was a runner-up for the state’s Mr. Football award during his senior campaign at Greer High School. Hannon’s start against Clemson earlier this season marked the first time a freshman has started under center for the Paladins since the 2006 campaign, in current Director of Operations for Furman football, Jordan Sorrells.

Hannon has had the luxury of handing the ball to one of the nation’s premier running backs, in senior Jerodis Williams (167 att, 1,008 yds, 10 TDs, 6.0 YPC/14 rec, 105 yds, 7.5 YPR). For Williams, the 2012 Black Saturday game offers him a chance to build on what has become a second-straight 1,000-yard rushing season for the native of Prattville, AL, which marks the first back-to-back 1,000-yard campaigns for a Paladin running back since Louis Ivory last accomplished the feat in back-to-back seasons in 2000 and ’01.

Over the past two seasons, Williams has become one of the best ever to don the Purple and White uniform coming out of the backfield, as he enters Saturday’s contest ranking sixth all-time on Furman’s rushing charts, with 2,935 career rushing yards. With 104 yards in the final two games of the season, he would surpass Larry Robinson’s (1973-76) mark of 3,038 career yards for fifth place on the Paladins’ all-time rushing ledger. He needs just 65 yards on Saturday to become just the sixth player in Paladin football history to rush for 3,000 or more yards in a career. Williams rushed for 48 yards on 13 attempts in the meeting last year with the Mountaineers.

Just to show how dangerous a threat Williams can be, his performance against Western Carolina earlier this season in a 45-24 Paladin win exemplified the type of effect he could have, rushing for 239 yards and a couple of scores, while logging a pair of kickoff returns for 131 yards, including a 100-yard return for a score.

Williams’ 370 all-purpose yards on the day were the second-most in Southern Conference history, while the 239 yards rushing in the win were the fourth-most single game total  in school history.  Williams enters Saturday’s contest, leading the nation in kickoff return average, posting a clip of 36.8 yards-per-return.

Helping Williams with his efforts in the Furman backfield on Saturday will be Hank McCloud (83 rush att, 383 yds, 5 TDs, 4.6 YPC/9 rec, 78 yds, 8.7 YPR), who will be a solid compliment and is a running back much in the same ilk as ASU’s Miller, in that he is fast and powerful. When Furman employs a fullback, it will look to Ernie Cain (19 rush att, 108 yds, 3 TDs, 5.7 YPC), who had a 47-yard rushing score in the 31-17 win at Elon the last time out.

Furman is a team that looks vastly different at the wide receiver position this season, lacking a big-play threat such as a Sederrick Cunningham (2008-12) or an Isaac West (2001-04), who are a couple of wideouts that have hurt the Mountaineers off the play-action pass in years past. The Paladins will also likely once again be without senior wideout Will King (34 rec, 541 yds, 3 TDs, 15.9 YPR), but the player asked to replace him, Gary Robinson (12 rec, 160 yds, 13.3 YPR),  offers more speed and big-play ability at flanker. Robinson had a career-long 41-yard catch on a deep ball in the 14-point win at Elon a couple of weeks ago.

A receiver that won’t start, but offers potential matchup problems as a result of size and speed is 6-2, 185-pound freshman Jordan Snellings (15 rec, 181 yds, 2 TDs, 12.1 YPR). One of the highlights of Snellings’ season is when he got behind the Clemson defense for a 37-yard scoring catch to account for the only score of the day in the 41-7 loss. Snellings will be the reserve split end for the Paladins on Saturday.

Ryan Culbreath (28 rec, 342 yds, 2 TDs, 12.2 YPR), a 6-4, 213-pound junior played a key role in Furman’s 20-10 win over the Mountaineers last season, hauling in a team-best three passes for 38 yards and a score in the win. Culbreath has NFL size at wideout, and is probably Furman’s best route-runner, as well as perimeter blocker. His ability to seal the edge cornerback on the perimeter has allowed Williams to get some big gains on the toss sweep the past couple of seasons.

The top receiving threat for the Paladins on Saturday will be Colin Anderson (23 rec, 396 yds, 17.2 YPR), who is likely the best Paladin tight end since Luther Broughton paid a visit to Boone in 1996, helping the Paladins to their last win in the High Country. After catching a tight end single-season Furman record eight scoring passes a year ago, Anderson is still looking for his first scoring catch this season.

Among Furman tight ends over the years, Anderson ranks first in career TD catches (11), while ranking second in career receptions (83) and career receiving yards (1,439 yds), trailing only Broughton in the previous two career marks.  He needs just 135 receiving yards in the final two games of the season to surpass Broughton in career receiving yards. Anderson has had some big games against Appalachian State during his career, including hauling in four passes for 104 yards and a TD in the 54-27 loss in ’09, while posting a couple of catches for 41 yards against ASU last season.

One of the most surprising aspects of the Furman offense this season has been its offensive front, which has been a physical unit all season. Returning to the lineup on Saturday is preseason All-SoCon pick Dakota Dozier, who will start at left tackle on Saturday and some coaches think he might have a chance to play on Sundays. Dozier will be making his 29th start in 30 games on Saturday for the Paladins. He will team with experienced sophomore Charles Emert at right tackle on Saturday, while Joe Turner (LG) and Ryan Storms (RG) will man the two guard positions, and redshirt freshman Eric Thoni will be starting his 10th-straight game at center in his freshman campaign.

 Final Prediction: It’s a rivalry that still gets the blood pumping no matter what side you are on, and one that has seen games in the past quite simply defy explanation. The saying in Boone back in the 1980′s and ’90′s used to be, the Southern Conference goes through Greenville, obviously referring to the team that made Purple and White jerseys famous in the FCS ranks in the late 1980′s. Once again the final championship hurdle for Appalachian State is Furman, though it’s now a program looking up at ASU, rather than ASU looking up at it. Still, high drama appears to be in store in the “High Country” on Saturday afternoon.

With a combined 23 Southern Conference crowns, four national titles, and two programs that have a combined league mark of 107-41 over the past 10 seasons, this game always means something.

A record crowd is expected for what is going to be a beautiful afternoon at “The Rock.”

As good as ASU has been in the past few weeks, it has found itself vulnerable on the home turf this season, and entering Saturday’s contest with two home setbacks to Palmetto State teams already, that heir of intimidation the Mountaineers have enjoyed in previous seasons, doesn’t seem to be fully in there this season, although the Paladins should face a KBS cauldron unlike one it has any ASU home opponent has seen to this point on the campaign.

If Furman is able to offer an effective balanced attack on Saturday against the Mountaineers, then a chance for Furman to spoil ASU’s championship hopes is a real possibility.

This is a Furman team that lost to Wofford by just three, a coaching staff that has proven it can be among the best in the league when scheming an opponent, and comes to Boone Saturday with less pressure to win than ever.

The most dangerous thing is the unknown, or facing an opponent that has absolutely nothing on the line to play for but pride. The team playing for pride usually responds either one of two ways, and we both know what those are.

Furman will come ready and this is a young team making strides under a second-year head coach that would love nothing better than to ‘upset the apple-cart, and a program keen on defending its league standard 12 titles.

However, I expect ASU, despite being banged up and reeling at several positions, to have its eyes on the prize on Saturday, claiming another thrilling win over the Paladins in what has been a series worth of fourth-quarter decisions over the years.

APPALACHIAN STATE 44, FURMAN 41, OT

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