App State and Marshall renew rivalry Saturday

 No. 23 Appalachian State and Marshall ready for a trip down memory lane

For fans who have been around awhile, like myself, the rivalry between Appalachian State and Marshall has extremely deep roots even though Saturday’s contest will mark only the 23rd time the two teams have met. 

The two former Southern Conference juggernauts saw not only the rivalry blossom between the two, reaching its zenith in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but  the league would also be where both programs established themselves as consistent winners, developing healthy respective winning traditions.

Like them or hate them, App State and Marshall made Southern Conference Saturdays fun. The two were members together in the league from 1976-1996, and t

Marshall had to overcome the tragic plane crash of 1970, which claimed 75 members of the team, coaching staff and support staff, and when it joined the Southern Conference as an official member in 1977, failed to win a league game until beating the Mountaineers, 17-10, in Boone on Nov. 7, 1981. Appalachian won six out of the first seven meetings in the series between the two. 

It took a long time for Marshall’s football program to recover from the plane crash, enduring 13-straight losing seasons following the tragedy, and that was part of a dark era of Thundering Herd football, which saw Marshall not record a winning season from 1965-1983. 

In 1986, Appalachian State and Marshall would square off for the first time in series history as ranked opposition. That would be the time when both teams started to hit their stride as members of the SoCon.

The Mountaineers entered the matchup ranked, the Thundering Herd began to hit their stride as a league member, and a year later, the Thundering Herd found themselves in the NCAA Division I-AA national title game game, only to lose a heartbreaker, 43-42, to Northeast Louisiana in the championship game.

The Thundering Herd had memorable players on that team, such as tight end Sean Doctor and record-setting quarterback Tony Petersen (currently the Appalachian State Offensive Coordinator) who would go on to become one of the league’s most prolific passers of all time and is now a member of the Marshall football Hall-of-Fame. 

The 1987 campaign would see two juggernaut programs expected to not only compete for the Southern Conference title, but also the national title. 

App State and Marshall were a major part of SoCon Football’s Golden Era

At one time, the Southern Conference was the power conference of Division I-AA football. League members, Appalachian State, Marshall and Furman would prove to be dominant forces within the SoCon throughout the 1980s, with Furman being the dominant team. Marshall and Appalachian State would begin to follow suit starting in the late 1980s and early-mid 1990s. Georgia Southern had immediate success when it joined in 1993 on the heels of its own national prominence, and even The Citadel, under then head coach Charlie Taafe, started to make noise nationally.

But while the Paladins, Bulldogs and Eagles are all part of the league’s great lineage of success on the gridiron, we’re going to focus primarily on the two teams that will meet in a big-time matchup Saturday.

Appalachian Stat and Marshall are of course now thriving “Group of Five” FBS members. Marshall, which departed for the Mid-American Conference  following the 1996 season, later joining  Conference USA in 2005, were two of the team’s that would gave the SoCon its status as one of the toughest league’s at any level of Division I football. 

The Thundering Herd would make five-straight appearances in the national title game, ending up with two titles. The Thundering Herd’s only other title in its final season as an FCS member (formerly Division I-AA) came in their swan-song season, posting an undefeated, 16-0 season en route to the title. 

Appalachian State and Georgia Southern would of course pick up where Marshall left off after leaving the SoCon, with the two teams claiming a combined five national titles in the 17 years since, with Georgia Southern picking up back-to-back crowns in 1999 and 2000, while Appalachian State, of course, won three-straight, lifting the national title hardware in 2005, ’06 and ’07. 

The Herd, Eagles and Mountaineers have combined to win seven of the league’s eight national titles, with Furman being the only remaining member to have won a national title, claiming a 17-12 win over Georgia Southern in Pocatello, ID., in the 1988 national title game.

No one who calls themselves a college football fan will ever forget what Appalachian State did on Sept. 1, 2007, knocking off No. 5 Michigan, 34-32. The Mountaineers became the first-ever FCS program to ever knock off a ranked FBS team, and first FCS program to ever receive votes in the Associated Press FBS poll. 

Then there’s Marshall. Though the Thundering Herd didn’t have their splash at the FCS level with a major win like Appalachian State with its win over Michigan, it wouldn’t take long for folks to start taking the Thundering Herd seriously as Power Five programs. 

Techinically, it started in 1996 for the Thundering Herd—it’s a team widely regarded as the most dominant in FCS history, and that includes all those North Dakota State teams that have won eight out of the past nine national titles, and the 2003 Delaware team that was also considered one of. The best teams in FCS history. 

The ’96 Marshall team was a Top 30-35 team in all of Division I football (FBS or FCS). Under the leadership of head coach Bob Pruitt, the Thundering Herd got Eric Kresser—Danny Wuerfell’s backup at Florida—to transfer in for one season, allowing Pruitt to shrewdly redshirt star quarterback and reigning SoCon Freshman of the Year Chad Pennington. The Herd were also beneficiaries of having Randy Moss transfer into the program from Florida State.

Moss, who had already been kicked out of Notre Dame for off the field troubles, messed up again while at FSU, forcing the incredibly forgiving former legendary head coach Bobby Bowden to remove Moss from the team. The long road for the physical, athletic specimen Moss would eventually lead back home to West Virginia.

With he and Kresser in the fold, combined with Moss, fellow wideout Tim Martin, and Doug Chapman at running back, a seasoned offensive line, and one of the nation’s top tight ends, in Jermaine Wiggins, the Herd had one of the most explosive offenses in all of Division I football. Add to that a defense that included defensive lineman Billy Lyons, linebackers John Grace and Larry McCloud, and defensive back Rogers Beckett, and the Thundering Herd literally had no weaknesses.

In fact, the closest game the Herd had the entire season came in an Oct. 26 matchup against the Dexter Coakley-led Appalachian State Mountaineers in Boone. The Thundering Herd ended up coming away from Kidd Brewer Stadium with a  24-10 win in a matchup, which was again between a pair of ranked foes. The Mountaineers came into that ’96 clash ranked No. 20 in the nation, while the Herd was of course undefeated and ranked No. 1. There were more than a few raised eyebrows when the Mountaineers went into the Owens Fieldhouse locker room with a 10-7 lead. 

In what was a tough defensive matchup, Kresser needed a pair of second half touchdown tosses to Moss and Martin to allow the Thundering Herd to come away from Boone on a cool, cloudy late October Saturday afternoon with a 14-point win. Marshall punter Chris Hanson punted six times in the game, averaging a school-record 55.3 yards-per-punt in the contest. 

The Thundering Herd easily went through the Southern Conference unbeaten, and with the conference title on the line in Johnson City, facing off against East Tennessee State at the Memorial Center, Marshall used another big day from its offense to get a 34-10 win. In somewhat impressive fashion, ETSU was the only team to hold Marshall scoreless in the opening quarter of the game for the entire season. 

In the playoffs, the Thundering Herd would finish out their run as a Division I-AA member by dominating all foes in the postseason. First, the Herd  faced off against another Division I-AA power, in the Delaware Blue Hens—a team that the Herd had faced and defeated twice in the previous five years—and it was all Marshall in a 59-14 demolition. 

Periodically in the Division I-AA playoffs, two teams from the same conference face off against each other in the second round and beyond in the playoffs. That happened pretty frequently for the SoCon back in its heyday, and in the second round, the top-seeded Thundering Herd welcomed Furman to Marshall Stadium (now Joan C. Edwards Stadium).

The regular-season matchup had actually seen the Paladins, led by talented quarterback Braniff Bonaventure and linebacker Orlando Ruff on defense, take a 14-7 lead, and like the Appalachian game, the Herd trailed at the break, as the Paladins took a 17-14 lead to the half led by a strong offensive half from quarterback Bonaventure and All-SoCon tight end Luther Broughton. However, the second half was all Marshall and Moss went to work against the Paladins, and would out-score the Paladins, 28-0 in the second half to win going away, 42-17.

Marshall demolishes Furman 54-0 in the 1996 Division I-AA Quarterfinals (photo courtesy of Marshall athletics)

The two rivals would meet for a second time during the 1996 season in the second round of the Division I-AA playoffs, and the Thundering Herd ended up handing the Paladins one of its worst losses in program history, shutting out Furman with a resounding 54-0 win in the Division I-AA Quarterfinals. By the time this complete domination of the Paladins, everyone was pretty sure the Thundering Herd were going to claim the national title.

The domination by the Thundering Herd could be summed up by the 539-136 advantage in total offense. Moss finished the contest with three catches for 82 yards and receiving touchdowns of 28 and seven yards. The win for the Thundering Herd saw them them advance on to the semifinals of the I-AA playoffs to take on the Northern Iowa. Panthers.

Without question as a Southern Conference member that had given the Thundering Herd the most fits throughout their two-decade membership was Furman. The Paladins had claimed wins in the first 13 meetings ever between the two programs before Marshall ever broke through and got a victory. Incredibly, in Marshall’s first five seasons as a Southern Conference football member, the Thundering Herd were 0-26-1 against league opposition. In fact, Marshall’s first Southern Conference win didn’t even come until 1981, and fittingly, that win came against Appalachian State in Boone, N.C., as the Thundering Herd came away with what was a 17-10 win on Nov. 7.

The significance of that first Southern Conference victory for the Herd over Appalachian State was such that when the Marshall buses reached Hurricane, WVa., the team was given a police escort back to campus in Huntington. The buses stopped at a rest area in Hurricane, where they were then led back on to I-64 by the West Virginia Highway Patrol all the way back to the central hub of the Marshall campus where it is estimated as many as 3,000 Thundering Herd fans showed up to give their support.

Standing in Marshall’s way of getting back to the national title game on its home field was Northern Iowa in the semifinals. It’s been said that Northern Iowa is one of the best teams to never win the Division I-AA national championship. The Panthers would actually put up a solid fight for three quarters against Marshall in its home stadium. Leading just 10-0 at the half, Marshall would open up the scoring a little more in the second half, out-scoring UNI 21-14 in the second half to finish off the Panthers and post a 31-14 win. It meant the Thundering Herd were headed to a fifth national title game in a six-year span.

In the championship game, it would be a rematch of the 1995 title game–one which saw Pruett’s Herd succumb to the Grizzlies, 22-20, as Dave Dickenson would be the subject of legendary stories in Missoula around camp fires for years to come after leading Montana to its first national title in program history by two points on the home stomping ground of the heavily favored Thundering Herd.

Joe Glenn had his Grizzlies back in Huntington a year later for a championship rematch with the Thundering Herd. The Grizzlies, like Marshall, entered the contest with a perfect 14-0 record. Led by Hawaiian born Brian Ah’ Yat under center, Montana once again had one of the best quarterbacks in Division I-AA football.

However, playing in its final game as a Division I-AA member, Moss and Marshall were out to make a statement, and that’s exactly what would happen, as the Thundering Herd jumped out to a 23-6 lead at the half. In the second half, the Thundering Herd struck for exactly the same amount of points to finish off what was a 46-29 win, handing Montana its lone loss of the season, while finishing off their own Division I-AA membership un-beaten, at 15-0. The season had truly been one of the greatest seasons in college football history at any level.

Marshall moves up to the FBS in 1997

Randy Moss easily scores vs West Virginia in 1997

Marshall would play its first game at the FBS level on Aug. 30, 1997, in what was one of the most anticipated games in school history, as well as being one of the most-talented teams the Thundering Herd had ever put on the gridiron. The Thundering Herd had never defeated West Virginia on the gridiron, and the meeting marked the first between the programs in 74 years.

For the first time since an 81-0 absolute shellacking in 1923 at the hands of the Mountaineers, the Thundering Herd were ready to shock the world in their first-ever game as an FBS member. Puskar Stadium in Morgantown would play host to the game, which would decide, at least for the time being, which team was the best in the Mountain State.

There wasn’t much of a question that the Thundering Herd had the two best players in the state, in wideout Randy Moss and quarterback Chad Pennington. In fact, Moss might have been the best player in college football in 1997, and West Virginia could do little to stop him or slow him down.

West Virginia had a running back of its own that could cause most any team in the nation headaches, and his name was Amos Zereoue. Affectionately known as “Famous Amos”, Zereoue would help power what was a strong opening half for the Mountaineers, which included a 51-yard scoring scamper, as he spun away from a pair of Marshall would-be tacklers en route to touchdown to close out the opening quarter of play. It was his second rushing touchdown of the opening quarter.

Backfield mate Curtis Keaton added another, and it started to look as if Marshall’s first experience as an FBS member was going to turn out to be quite the embarrassment against an in-state rival it had still never beaten.

West Virginia added a punt return for a score in the second quarter to increase its advantage to 28-3 before the Thundering Herd would finally find their way back into the football game.The Thundering Herd found the end zone for the first time all afternoon when Chad Pennington hooked up with wideout LaVorn Colclough just before the half, giving Marshall some momentum heading into the half, trailing 28-10.

With an added jolt of confidence, Marshall would make things even more interesting in the second half. Llow Turner added a 53-yard touchdown scamper, and Randy Moss made the West Virginia defensive backs look silly on a couple of scoring grabs from Pennington, and all of the sudden, the Herd was leading 31-28 early in the final quarter.

Unfortunately for the Thundering Herd, however, quarterback Marc Bulger would restore order, as well as West Virginia’s lead for good following a scoring toss to Chad Wable to give the Mountaineers the lead back, at 35-31, and West Virginia would eventually hold on for the win over its debutante FBS in-state neighbor, with a 42-31 win.

Despite the loss to West Virginia in its first-ever FBS game, Marshall would find great success from the outset of its jump from Division I-AA to Division I-A.

In fact, the 1997 season would see head coach Bob Pruett’s Thundering Herd finish the campaign with a 10-3 record in their first season as an FBS member, and finished out the campaign with a 7-1 conference mark. In the MAC championship game against Toledo, the Thundering Herd would post a 34-31 win to win the conference in their first year, and earn a berth into the Motor City Bowl against SEC West member Ole Miss in the Detroit Silver Dome.

In what would wind up being a second opportunity against an FBS power five member in its first season playing up at the highest classification, Marshall would again put forth a strong effort only to come up just short in what was a thrilling bowl game, losing 34-31 to the Rebels.

The loss to Ole Miss would turn out to be the final game of the outstanding two-year career of Randy Moss as part of the Marshall football program. In just two years with the Herd, the sophomore Moss had already had a record-breaking career, and in 1997, Moss was invited to New York and the Downtown Athletic Club as the program’s first-ever Heisman Trophy candidate. Moss finished his two seasons in the Marshall Green and White, hauling in 55 TD catches in just 28-career games. His 25 scoring grabs in a single season were an NCAA record.

In 1998, the Thundering Herd would pick up its first-ever win over a power five foe as a Division I-A member program, as Marshall traveled down to Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, S.C., and pulled off what was a huge, 24-21 win over the Gamecocks. It was just the third week of the season, and the Herd had a win over an SEC East member.

It would be a great way to start what would become an eighth-straight campaign with 10 or more wins. The Thundering Herd were establishing themselves as the team of the 1990s in Division I football. The win over the Gamecocks on the road came in dramatic fashion, as Billy Malashevich connected on a 37-yard field goal as time expired to give the Herd the dramatic win.

The ’98 campaign would also produce what would prove to be yet another first for Marshall football, as it would see the Thundering Herd claim the program’s first-ever bowl win. After posting a 23-17 win over Toledo in a MAC title game rematch from a year earlier, junior quarterback Chad Pennington and the Thundering Herd found themselves back in the Motor City Bowl in Detroit, as Marshall would square off against Louisville.

Pennington and the Herd were nearly unstoppable offensively against the Cardinals, mashing their border state neighbor, 48-29, capping one of the best season’s in school history. The Thundering Herd had completed the season with a 12-1 mark, and in a time before program’s went by the moniker “Group of Five”, the Thundering Herd would have certainly garnered the distinction of being the top Group of Five team in the nation at the particular point in time.

The lone loss of the ’98 campaign came on Halloween, as the Thundering Herd dropped a 34-13 contest on the road at Bowling Green. Still, it was an incredibly successful season for the Thundering Herd.

The 1999 season would produce yet another huge moment in the infancy of Marshall’s membership as an FBS member. The Thundering Herd went on the road to open the 1999 campaign, traveling to Death Valley to take on the Clemson Tigers. While the win over South Carolina a year before had been definitely something to celebrate, a win over a Clemson program that had the prestige of having a winning tradition and a school that had won the 1981 national championship over Nebraska, would help Marshall improve its own program and deepen its own tradition.

Pennington, who was now the senior signal-caller for the Thundering Herd, would help lead Marshall to an historic, 13-10, win over the Tommy Bowden-led Tigers in what was his debut as the Tigers’ new head coach after Tommy West stepped down following a disappointing 1998.campaign. For the new Clemson head coach Bowden, who had led Tulane to an unbeaten season just a year earlier, it was his first loss as a head coach since Nov. 15, 1997.

As he had been in Marshall’s other win as an FBS member of a team from the Palmetto State a year earlier, Marshall place-kicker Billy Malashevich would come up big once again for the Herd, actually giving the 6-0 lead with field goals of 24 and 22 yards in the first 15 minutes of action to give the Herd, who were decked out in their all white road uniforms and helmets, trimmed in Green and Black, a 6-0 lead.

As Pennington and the Marshall offense had trouble doing much against Reggie Herring’s Clemson defense, the Thundering Herd defense also was making plays of its own in the opening half of play, in what was an extremely physical, hard-hitting football game. Add to that, a humid, baking early evening contest had both team’s battling the heat as much as in the trenches against each other. At kickoff before 79,186 fans on-hand, the temperature was still hovering around 92 degrees in the early evening.

The Marshall defense had forced Clemson to punt the ball away on its first four possessions of the afternoon, but the Tigers would finally be able to put points on the board on its fifth possession of the evening. The Tigers put together what was an eight-play, 43-yard drive to set up a Tony Lazzara 42-yard field goal with 9:29 remaining In the half, sliced Marshall’s lead in half, making it a 6-3 contest. The two defenses would continue their strong play, and as the two teams entered their respective locker rooms at the half, it remained a battle of field goals.

In the third quarter, the strong defensive effort on both sides remained sterling, as neither team could even manage a field goal, and the score remained Marshall 6, Clemson 3, entering the fourth and final quarter.

Somehow, it’s seemingly always an expectation that the bigger, power five school was eventually going to find the breakthrough before a large throng of increasingly impatient, expectant fans wearing Orange and Purple. That breakthrough would come in the fourth quarter, and it would give Clemson its first and only lead of the steamy hot season opener in the cauldron that was Death Valley for the opening game for both teams of the 1999 season.

The Tigers would get on the board, scoring the first touchdown of the day, as Javis Austin scored on a 3-yard run midway through the final quarter to give the Tigers a 10-6 lead following Chris Campbell’s PAT. The 67-yard scoring drive had taken 10 plays, and chewed up 3:20 off the game clock.

Pennington and the Thundering Herd, however, would show both their mettle and maturity here. Feeling the pressure of being behind for the first time all afternoon, Pennington showed the college football world and plenty of NFL scouts why he was one of the top quarterbacks in college football, as he led Marshall on an 11-play, 76-yard drive that culminated with a 7-yard scoring run from Doug Chapman with 70 seconds left to give Marshall a 13-10 lead following Malashevich’s first and only PAT of the day.

Led by Brandon Streeter, the Tigers had one more chance to perhaps win it with a touchdown, or get in field goal range to try and send the game into overtime. The Tigers would be afforded the opportunity to tie the football game, as the Tigers drove 66 yards in eight plays, highlighted by a 33-yard reception by Brian Wofford to set up what was seemingly a very makable kick.

However, on his first field goal attempt of his collegiate career, Matt Campbell’s 33-yard field goal attempt to tie the game hooked wide left in the waning seconds, and the Marshall players and sea of Green of fans that made the trip to Death Valley erupted in celebration for a win that still stands among the most cherished in the tradition-steeped program’s gridiron history.

Astonishingly, it improved Bob Pruett’s career record as the head coach of the Thundering Herd to 39-4 overall as the head coach. It would be the kind of jump start to Pennington’s senior season that would help keep the Thundering Herd in the national spotlight for a third-straight season as an FBS newbie. The win over Clemson was just Marshall’s second win over an ACC opponent in school history.

After allowing Austin to score on a 3-yard scoring run in the fourth quarter against Clemson, the Marshall defense would not allow a rushing score for the next nine weeks of the season.

Senior quarterback Chad Pennington (middle) goes over instructions with his offense as future star QB Byron Leftwich (right) listens intently

The 1999 season would end up resulting in a the Thundering Herd as being the winningest team in Division I football for the decade of the 1990s, as Marshall finished the season a perfect 13-0 in what was a fitting way for Chad Pennington to close one chapter of his football life at Marshall, and open another pretty successful as a New York Jet.

The 13-0 record marked second time in four seasons that the Thundering Herd had managed to finish the campaign unblemished, as the Herd also accomplished the feat in 1996 (15-0).

The magic of the 1999 season didn’t come without its drama, however, as the Thundering Herd had a couple of close calls. One of those close calls came in the MAC championship game against a Western Michigan team the Thundering Herd had made pretty easy work of during the regular-season, as they went to Kalamazoo and scored a 31-17 win.

However, the 1999 MAC Championship game would play out far differently. After falling behind 23-0 to Western Michigan early in the third quarter, however, the prodigious Pennington would then go to work, bring the Herd all the way back to take a 27-23 lead in the fourth quarter. What’s more amazing about the furious rally by Pennington and the Thundering Herd offense is that those 27 points came on just 18 offensively plays.

However, Broncos quarterback Tim Lester and Western Michigan responded with some draMACtion of its own, as Lester hooked up with Jake Moreland with 7:20 left to help the Broncos re-take the lead, 30-27.

As every program has that one quarterback, this was Marshall’s one. Like Armanti Edwards or Richie Williams did in the past for those great Appalachian State teams in the first decade of the new millennium, it would be Pennington doing his thing for the Thundering Herd in the last year of the previous millennium, leading the Thundering Herd on a 76-yard drive to provide some late-game heroics.

Facing a 3rd-and-goal at the 1-yard line with just seven seconds remaining and no timeouts left, and instead of going for the game-tying kick to send the game into overtime, the Herd and Pennington went for the win. Pennington took the snap and rolled right to connect with Marshall linebacker Eric Pinkerton, who was an eligible receiver for the Herd on the play, and he made a spectacular grab for a touchdown to put another MAC title on lock for the Herd. It was Marshall’s third in as many seasons.

The Thundering Herd would win a college football record 114 games in the decade of the 1990s, with most of that success coming under the direction of head coaches Jim Donnan (1990-95) and Bob Pruett (1996-2004). In Pruett’s first six years as the head coach of the Marshall football program, Pruett was an astounding 69-11 as the head coach of the Thundering Herd. In stark contrast to the success the Thundering Herd experienced during the 1990s under both Pruett and Donnan, the Thundering Herd had an overall record of just 38-150-2 from 1966-83.

Marshall’s success in bowl games has been the nation’s top winning percentage, having won 12 of their 15 bowl appearances, which converts to a .800 winning percentage in those games.

Marshall-App State Rivalry:

**Did you know: Both Appalachian State and Marshall had potential undefeated FBS season’s ruined on Halloween? That is in fact true, as the Mountaineers were 24-21 losers to arch-rival Georgia Southern inside the friendly confines of Kidd Brewer Stadium, as the Apps fell out of the national rankings. Meanwhile, on Halloween 1998, Marshall was a 34-13 loser on the road at Bowling Green, ending the potential of having an undefeated season at the FBS level.

**Both Appalachian State and Marshall had back-to-back unbeaten regular season’s in back-to-back seasons. In 1995, Appalachian State would become the first Division I team in the history of the Tar Heel State to finish the regular-season unblemished with an 11-0 record. The Mountaineers would get to 12-0 with a first-round FCS playoff win over James Madison before eventually getting knocked out of the playoffs by Stephen F. Austin. Head coach Shawn Clark, who is pictured below vs. Western Carolina, was a member of that 1995 team. Marshall would go wire-to-wire unbeaten a year later, finishing the season a perfect 15-0 and winning the 1996 national title in what was the Thundering Herd’s final season as a Division I-AA member.

**Did you know that Appalachian State, Marshall and Georgia Southern combined to win eight of the nine national championships won by SoCon members and now all three call the Group of Five home. The only school that holds a national title as a member of the Southern Conference currently is Furman, which claimed its only title in 1988. Georgia Southern won four of its national titles as an independent before joining the SoCon in 1993. Appalachian State (2005, ’06 and ’07) and Marshall (1992 and ’96) combined to win five Division I-AA national titles.

**Did you know both Appalachian State and Marshall have had quarterbacks claim the highest individual prize given to a Division I-AA/FCS player, with former Marshall great Michael Payton claiming the award en route to leading the Thundering Herd to the program’s first national title in 1992, while Armanti Edwards etched his name into the record books as one of the all-time great dual-threat signal-callers at any level, winning both the 2008 and ’09 Walter Payton Awards, becoming the first player to accomplish that feat at the FCS level.

**Did you know that in 1996 when Appalachian State and Marshall played that there were a total of two all-pro future NFL stars on both sides. Appalachian State was led by two-time Buck Buchanan Award winner, in senior linebacker Dexter Coakley, while future NFL Hall-of-Fame wide receiver Randy Moss starred for the Herd. Coakley was an NFL All-Pro selection twice, while Moss was a six-time NFL All-Pro selection during his standout professional career.

Series: App State leads 14-8

App State=home

Appalachian State=Away

1977: Appalachian State 28, Marshall 20

1978: App State 28, Marshall 7

1979: App State 45, Marshall 7

1980: Appalachian State 23, Marshall 6

1981: Marshall 17, App State 10

1982: App State 21, Marshall 13

1983: Appalachian State 28, Marshall 19

1984: Marshall 35, App State 7

1985: Appalachian State 40, Marshall 0

1986: Appalachian State 27, Marshall 17

1987: Appalachian State 17, Marshall 10

1987: Marshall 24, Appalachian State 10

1988: Marshall 30, Appalachian State 27

1989: Appalachian State 28, Marshall 7

1990: Marshall 50, Appalachian State 0

1991: Appalachian State 9, Marshall 3

1992: Appalachian State 37, Marshall 34

1993: Marshall 35, Appalachian State 3

1994: Appalachian State 24, Marshall 14

1995: App State 10, Marshall 3

1996: Marshall 24, Appalachian State 10

2002: Marshall 50, Appalachian State 17

Last Meeting: Marshall 50, Appalachian State 17

Huntington, WVa–In a game that saw the first meeting between two old Southern Conference rivals in six years, it was clear that both programs were still very successful. Another thing that was very apparent was that both Appalachian State and Marshall were still very successful football programs. The other thing that was a distinct feature of this particular matchup is that it was easy to see how much the Thundering Herd had distanced itself from a good Division I-AA program like Appalachian State since making the move to FBS football.

Led by talented signal-caller Byron Leftwich, the Appalachian State defense offered few answers as to how to slow the Thundering Herd’s offense, which out-gained the Mountaineers 634-140 en route to a 50-17 win. Leftwich, which during that particular season was a Heisman Trophy candidate, passed for 469 yards and four touchdowns to lead the Thundering Herd to the big home-opening win.

With the success that the Thundering Herd entered the contest with and the high expectations ahead of Leftwich’s Heisman campaign, Marshall entered the 2002 matchup ranked No. 22/No.19 in the two major FBS polls, while Appalachian State came into the contest ranked No. 2 in both major FCS polls.

The Mountaineers, who entered the season as the favorites to claim the Southern Conference title, could only one offensive touchdown in the contest, which came on the Mountaineers’ opening drive of the contest, as Joey Hoover gave the Mountaineers the early lead, 7-0, on a 2-yard scoring plunge.

Though Appalachian State was playing without its starting quarterback, Joe Burchette, due to a back injury, true freshman quarterback Richie Williams had trouble leading the Mountaineers on sustained drives, but showed flashes of what he would become as the signal-caller of the future for the Mountaineers.

But if Marshall’s Leftwich didn’t have a big enough day throwing the football, his favorite target in the passing attack was Josh Davis, as the Biletnikoff Award candidate overcame two early fumbles and a dropped pass to finish the night with one of the greatest individual performances by a opposing wide receiver against the App State defense, as he hauled in 11 catches for a career-high 264 yards, which included a 76-yard scamper in the third quarter, which helped the Herd finally break away from Appalachian late in the third quarter and take control of the football game.

Aside from Hoover’s 2-yard scamper, the only other touchdown scored by Appalachian State the entire evening came on an 87-yard punt return for a score by DaVon Fowlkes.

Other Memorable Meetings Worthy of Note:

1995: No. 2 Appalachian State 10, No. 3 Marshall 3 (Oct. 21, 1995)

HUNTINGTON, WVa–This was one of those battles that will be forever etched in the minds of fans on both sides, as well as Southern Conference football fans in general, as No. 2 Appalachian State got a late

The game amounted to a heavyweight fight between two of the top teams in FCS football, and as many expected, both defenses wouldn’t give an inch in a game that wouldn’t be decided until a crucial Marshall turnover late in the contest on a fumble by All-America running back and Walter Payton Award candidate Chris Parker.

I can vividly remember watching this football game with my one of my two best friend’s, Matt Davis, as well as my grandfather, William Erskine Kirksey, who is largely responsible for me loving sports like I do to this day.

The 1995 football season in the Southern Conference had a huge impact on my life. I know that sounds kind of cheesy, but it was the season I fell in love with every aspect of my alma mater, Appalachian State and its football program, while still holding on to my love of all things Furman.

The truth of it is, I realized I had no problem loving both rival schools during this season, and mutually hating Marshall and Georgia Southern with all my Furman and App friends lol. I wasn’t smart enough or rich enough to get into Furman, which I didn’t have a problem with. I wanted to go to Appalachian because it was new, and the Mountaineers were in the SoCon and they were damn good in football.

Furman, which was also a damn tradition rich, proud football program, was the school I call my hometown school. It was home. I loved my home and the people associated with it. It’s much easier to love both now with both being at different levels. I will say the people at App State and the people at Furman couldn’t treat me any better, and I am so appreciative of them playing such big roles in shaping me as a human being.

But back to 1995. Back then, I had to tell my friends like Matt about FCS football. Of course he knew Furman was good, and he started to learn along with me about the other schools in the league back then, naturally hating Marshall and any team that couldn’t throw the ball at least 30 yards down the field at some point during the game. That usually included half the league, and when Wofford was added, he had another team to despise haha.

So that night, Matt, my grandfather, who we call “Big E” and I came home from the Furman vs. East Tennessee State game and the Braves, who both my grandparents watched when Dale Murphy played for them and they suffered through those 1987-89 campaigns, were in the playoffs that year, as well as there was a night race–potentially the second Bristol Race but not sure–and we also awaited the big one, which was Marshall and App State set to come on SportSouth at 7 p.m. for the SoCon Game of the Week.

Thinking back on that game, which featured some truly great players on both sides of the football for both teams, I fell in love with the underdog Mountaineers that night. That was a night that, even though the Mountaineers had not lost and were one of the main contenders for the Southern Conference and national titles along with Marshall, you always got the feeling that you were fighting up hill in a game in Huntington, WVa. Quite honestly, I have that same feeling and nervousness about today’s game even though the Mountaineers are ranked and are a slight favorite at “The Joan.”

The game was a flat-out slobber-knocker and one of the most physical FCS/Division I-AA games I have ever witnessed. Guys like Matt Stevens, Dexter Coakley, Joe DiBernardo and Chuck Payne absolutely brought the lumber on defense.

Then you had the weapons on Marshall’s offense like running back Chris Parker, who was an absolute beast, and the Thundering Herd always had good skill players and veteran offensive line play. Even before there was Randy Moss, there were guys that could stretch a secondary with their speed, like a Troy Brown or a Tim Martin.

The one major advantage I felt like Appalachian State had on the road in a hostile environment going into the game was its defense, however, with a quarterback that was young, but ahead of the game in maturity and throwing accuracy like Chad Pennington, it always makes you nervous. Pennington was the kind of quarterback that knew how to use the weapons he had around him. He was a leader and a coach on the field–even as a true freshman.

As Matt, Big E and I cheered each hit and it got later into the game, I knew that if App continued frustrate the Herd and force them into Tim Openlander field goal attempts rather than big runs from Parker or big plays in the passing game to Martin, I knew the Mountaineers ground game would eventually come alive under the shrewd leadership of Scott Satterfield.

As the game carried on into the fourth quarter, with Openlander and Appalachian’s place-kicker Jay Sutton having provided the only points, the game game remained tied, 3-3, in a steady, cold rain. As the game wore on into the fourth quarter, the hitting only seemed to intensify in the contest.

At that time, what is now “Joan C. Edwards Stadium” was known just as “Marshall Stadium.” With Marshall in possession of the ball near midfield, the Mountaineers made they type of play, veteran, mature championship-type teams make, and when Jason Hatcher recovered a loose football, he danced a little jig in excitement.

Satterfield and Appalachian’s ground grinders Aldwin Lance and Damon Scott got the ball in the red zone, and Scott Satterfield with a gimpy ankle and all went off left tackle Shawn Clark into the end zone for the score with 4:18 remaining, giving the Mountaineers the lead for good and one of the sweetest victories of that memorable undefeated regular-season.

1994: No. Appalachian State 24, No. 1 Marshall 14 (Oct. 24, 1994)

Appalachian State fans most likely would be able to tell you where they were when Appalachian State defensive back Johnny Smith picked off Marshall quarterback Todd Donnan’s pass and returned it 70 yards for a score on a cold, rainy October evening at The Rock.

Who can forget the call by Brian Esteridge of the Appalachian Sports Network, It’s picked off by  Johnny Smith…Johnny Smith 40…Johnny Smith 30…Johnny Smith 20…Johnny Smith 10…5TOUCHDOWN JOHNNY SMITH TOUCHDOWN APPALACHIAN!!! As his voice reached its peak, it cracked during that call.

And who could blame him? That play, if you were a Mountaineer fan, student or alum, was worthy of such excitement. After all, it was one of the biggest plays in the history of Appalachian State football. It is where the turnaround began after a horrendous ’93 season.

Smith’s game-winning INT return for a score in the fourth quarter was vindication, as some Thundering Herd fans and press thought the Marshall program had surpassed Appalachian State, especially after a 35-3 loss in Huntington a year earlier.

It was one of the most dominating performances by an Appalachian State defenses in the history of the program against a No. 1 ranked team, and when the Thundering Herd made the trek  to Boone, the Mountaineers were laying in wait for the upset win, climbing back to the SoCon after suffering through the only losing season in the 24-year career of Jerry Moore just a year earlier.

Even making the story more memorable for most fans of the Black and Gold was the story of Smith himself, who was a running back-turned-defensive back, and this type story is one that the Mountaineer football program has prided itself on during its 43-year Southern Conference membership.

The win was especially needed, as the Mountaineers were on the brink of falling out of the Division I-AA Top 25, ranked No. 24 after a 34-31 loss to Georgia Southern a week earlier in Statesboro. Add to that a 12-10 loss to Wake Forest to open the season, and the Mountaineers were almost in a must-win situation just to make the postseason coming into the important meeting with the top-ranked Thundering Herd.

The defensive effort on the evening for the Mountaineers was highlighted by the play of Dexter Coakley, who registered 15 tackles, including three for a loss, while also breaking up a pair of passes and causing a fumble. It was one of Coakley’s signature performances in a career filled with big-time performances, and it was a game in which the nation knew what many Appalachian State fans already knew. Coakley would lead a Mountaineer defense that was simply outstanding against a nationally ranked offense, and one that would finish the ’94 season with ranked tops in the Southern Conference and No. 10 nationally.

1991: Appalachian State 9, Marshall 3 (Aug. 31, 1991)

Two of the favorites to claim the Southern Conference crown would face off to open the season at Kidd-Brewer Stadium, as Appalachian State hosted Marshall in a game that would prove to be yet another defensive struggle.

It was a game between two great defenses, and ultimately, it would be the Mountaineers that ended up victorious in the slugfest between the two schools, claiming a 9-3 win. The key to the win for the Mountaineers was their special teams unit in a game in which field position was so crucial.

Harold Alexander, who was Appalachian’s All-American punter, set a Southern Conference record by averaging 55.5 yards-per-punt, keeping the Thundering pinned in their own end with bad field position pretty much the entire afternoon.

Alexander recorded punts of 67 and 51 yards, respectively, in the contest. The 51-yard boot came against heavy pressure from the Herd, who sent 10 men to block Alexander’s punt, as he was punting from deep in his own end zone.

It was the Mountaineer defense that got them on the board first in the opening half of play, as the Mountaineer defensive front, which was led by Anthony Downs and Avery Hall, applied heavy pressure to Marshall All-American quarterback Michael Payton within his own end zone, forcing Payton to get rid of the ball quickly without a receiver in the vicinity, resulting in a flag for intentional grounding. Due to the penalty occurring in the end zone, the Mountaineers were awarded a safety and took a 2-0 lead.

Marshall would take its only lead of the contest following a Mountaineer turnover deep in its own territory, but the Mountaineer defense would hold strong, limiting Marshall to just a field goal to make it a 3-2 Thundering Herd lead.

But the Mountaineers defense would get pressure on Payton once again, forcing him to fumble for a second time on the afternoon, and it was recovered by the Apps deep in Marshall territory. Fullback J.K. Reaves would seal the Mountaineer win, getting Appalachian off to an important 1-0 start in league play, as he plunged through the Marshall defense for a 2-yard score in the fourth quarter to give the Mountaineers the lead back, 9-3. That would ultimately end up being the final score, as it would be the start of a season which saw the Mountaineers win the SoCon outright.

Appalachian State’s Tradition:

Like Marshall, Appalachian State has put together quite the tradition on the college football gridiron spanning both classifications.

There’s much more to the Appalachian State football program than its earth-moving win over Michigan some 13 years ago. The tradition that is Mountaineer football started in a small community that supported it over the years, and like preparation for a good harvest, watered and fed into the program with support with each passing season.

The argument could really essentially be made that the first real trailblazing coach for Appalachian State football was Jim Brakefield. That’s right, at one time in the 1970s, it was Brakefield and college football hall-of-famer Fisher DeBerry that helped first introduce the Mountaineer football program to success.

Early on that success didn’t always show up in wins, but it gradually would find its way to some pretty significant wins. With DeBerry and Brakefield being the coaches that many Appalachian State fans pinpoint as the first true glimmers of potential of what the football program could one day be.

Back during the Brakefield and DeBerry days, the Mountaineers would be more like The Citadel and Wofford than what they would be some three decades later under the direction of Jerry Moore and then offensive coordinator Scott Satterfield.

One of the really big early wins for the Mountaineer football program came in 1975 in a time before Division I was split into classifications. That win would come against the University of South Carolina on Nov.8, 1975 at Williams-Brice Stadium, as the Mountaineers used their wishbone/triple-option offense to perfection in getting the win over the Gamecocks.

It would be a big day for Robbie Price in the win for the Black and Gold, as he led the Mountaineer offense on seven drives over 70 yards or more, including four of which were in excess of 80 or more yards in leading the Mountaineers to an impressive 39-34 win over the Gamecocks.

One of the team’s that the Mountaineers seemingly enjoyed playing the most during their FCS days was Wake Forest. When Jerry Moore arrived as head coach in 1989 after having been a volunteer assistant at Arkansas for a year under Ken Hatfield, it seemed as if Moore tried to schedule the boys from Wake Forest as much as possible.

The first time the Mountaineers and Demon Deacons would face off against each other under the watchful eye of coach Moore would be during his very first season at the helm of the program.

The Mountaineers would travel to Groves Stadium on Sept. 9, 1989, to face off against the Bill Dooley-led Demon Deacons. In what would seemingly become a theme under Moore, the Mountaineers would notch their first of four victories over the ACC school under Moore’s guidance, and this one would see the Mountaineers pick up a 15-10 win.

The Demon Deacons had one of the best receivers In college football, in future Phoenix Cardinal and Carolina Panther Ricky Proehl before a crowd of 30,200 fans on-hand at Groves Stadium.

Neither team could move the ball very effectively in the opening half of play, but both did manage to go to the half with a field goal on the board, as the game was tied 3-3 at the break.

In the second half, Appalachian running back Ritchie Melchor got going on the ground for the Mountaineers in the second half, as he rushed for 121 of his 139 yards. Melchor gave the Mountaineers the lead on a 67-yard scoring run before Proehl and Wake Forest answered.

Proehl took a short pass and turned it into a 28-yard scoring run to tie the game. The Mountaineers added a field goal and a safety to give coach Moore his second win as the Mountaineers’ head coach.

See Link for more on App State’s FCS Tradition:

Appalachian State knocks off North Carolina 34-31 in 2019 (photo courtesy of App State athletics)

In what was Appalachian State’s sixth season as an FBS member, the Mountaineers enjoyed their finest moment as an a team at the highest level of college football.

The 2019 season saw the Mountaineers find themselves in the national rankings as an FBS school for the first time in school history last season.

The Mountaineers enjoyed their finest moment as an FBS program, and best moment as a program in 12 years since the win over Michigan as an FCS program, as the Mountaineers came up with a historic 34-31 win over the Tar Heels in what was just the second all-time meeting between the two programs.

Though the score read 34-31 at the end of the game, it was defensive lineman Demetrius Taylor that stole the show, recording two forced fumbles, helping the Mountaineers build a double-digit first-half lead on the road.

On the offensive side of the football, it was the Mountaineer ground game, led by Darrynton Evans, and timely throws by quarterback Zach Thomas, which enabled the Black and Gold have all their wishes come true. It was truly the day the administration must have envisioned back in 2012 decision was made to move up to the FBS level and to the Sun Belt Conference. Evans ended the day by finding the end zone on three occasions for the Mountaineers.

The Tar Heels and young freshman phenom quarterback Sam Howell wouldn’t go quietly, however, as North Carolina drove down the field and put themselves in good position with a chance to tie the game with a long field goal, matriculating the ball down the Mountaineer 39.

But just like Corey Lynch’s block of Michigan’s Jason Gingell’s kick back in 2007, the Mountaineers would come through once again to get a big blocked kick, as Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year Akeem Davis-Gaither got a piece of the 56-yard field goal attempt, and it was just enough to alter its course and help the Mountaineers secure the three-point win.

The second power five win of the season came on Nov. 9, as the Mountaineers came with a historic 20-15 win over the South Carolina Gamecocks, knocking off both state universities, as Carolina was on the minds of Appalachian fans everywhere, at both the beginning of the season, and towards the end of the season.

Appalachian’s win over the Gamecocks was only the second win over South Carolina in school history, with the only other victory over the Gamecocks coming way back in 1975 under the direction of Jim Brakefield. Like the 2019 clash in Columbia, the ’75 encounter saw the Black and Gold knock off the Gamecocks by five as well, winning 39-34.

The Mountaineer defense was outstanding, holding South Carolina to just 202 yards of total offense. Evans put in another gutsy performance running the football, as he finished with 85 yards on 23 carries.

Appalachian would finish the 2019 season with a 13-1 season, winning the Sun Belt title. The only blemish on the Mountaineers’ was a 24-21 home loss to Georgia Southern on Halloween.

Following a 45-38 win over Louisiana in the Sun Belt title game, the Mountaineers made if five-for-five in bowl games, closing out the campaign with a 31-17 come-from-behind win over UAB in the R+L Carrier New Orleans Bowl. The Mountaineers have 55 wins, which is fifth-most in the FBS since the start of the 2015 season.

What’s at Stake Saturday:

There’s neat familiarity about this matchup all the way around. Shawn Clark, who is in his first year as the head coach of Appalachian, is a native of the Mountain State and grew up hoping to attend either West Virginia or Marshall as a football player, however, neither school recruited Clark. Clark ended up as the star left tackle at Appalachian State.

Saturday’s 3:30 p.m. contest will mark the first time since 1983 that the Mountaineers have appeared on the network, while Marshall will be making their fourth appearance and first since 1993 when the Thundering Herd faced Youngstown State. In fact, all three of Marshall’s appearances on the main CBS network have come in national title game appearances vs. Youngstown State.

The game, which was originally slated for a 1:30 p.m. kickoff on the CBS Sports Network was elevated to CBS—“America’s most-watched TV station”—on Tuesday and will now kick off at 3:30 p.m EST at Joan C. Edwards Stadium on Saturday afternoon. 

In a season that has already been severely altered due to COVID-19, Appalachian State and Marshall are a couple of teams that are among the top of the pecking order in what is known as the “Group of Five.”

In a season with some much uncertainty on whether the season will even be finished or not, it is refreshing to have this rivalry to watch on this early fall Saturday.

Technically, with the Mountaineers having to drop both Wisconsin and Wake Forest due to the pandemic, picking up the Marshall game was a very nice consolation prize.

The battle between the quarterbacks should be worth the watch. Marshall’s Grant Wells set a freshman school record with four scoring tosses in his first ever start. App State’s Zach Thomas has one of the most reliable receivers in the nation, in Thomas Hennigan, while running backs tandem in the country, with Cam Peoples and Marcus Williams Jr combining as a nice tandem in the backfield.

Expect some offensive fireworks between first-year Mountaineer head coach Shawn Clark and 11th-year head coach Doc Holliday for the Herd.

Final Score Prediction:

App State 48, Marshall 41

Published by soconjohn

I am a lover of all things SoCon, and I have had a passion to write about, follow and tell the world about this great conference for pretty much my entire life. While I do love the SoCon, and live in the SoCon city, which is home to the Furman Paladins, have a passion for sports in general, with college football and college hoops topping the list.

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