In an age of transition in college football, one of the really neat and noteworthy attributes that the SoCon can continue to lay claim to its tradition, regionality, and rivalries
Time-honored rivalries remain intact, and new ones are continuing to emerge in a league that is looking to re-ignite its status as one of the traditional power conferences of FCS football.
As the 2022 football season continues to draw ever-closer to becoming a reality, The Spread podcast will take a look at what makes the Southern Conference a league that has not only stood the test of time, but one that has inevitably become one of the most successful in FCS football.
With that said, here’s a look at five of the top current rivalries in the league, as well as some that have been discontinued due to teams moving to the FBS level. First, let’s take a look at the top five current rivalries in the league, counting down from No. 5.
No. 5 “Blue Ridge Border Battle”
The rivalry between East Tennessee State and Western Carolina has become one of the most exciting gridiron rivalries in the Southern Conference, and when the two do battle on Nov. 12 in Johnson City, it will mark the 62nd all-time meeting in the series. Kickoff is set for
he Bucs broke open a wild game last season in the second half, as the Bucs went almost literally “Buc-wild” in the second half of the game, as ETSU rolled up 461 yards of total offense and ended up out-scoring the Purple and Gold 21-0 in the second half to come up with the thrilling 56-35 win.
It was a big day for running back Jacob Saylors, who set a new single-game rushing record, rushing for 266 yards, as he broke the former record set by teammate and Quay Holmes, who rushed for 255 yards in a win on the road at Mercer. Saylors also added three rushing scores to highlight the big-time offensive effort by the Bucs. Holmes also put in outstanding day at the office, as he finished the contest with 212 yards and three scores.
This series has been one of the more exciting rivalries in Southern Conference football of late, with the previous three prior to last season having been decided by a touchdown or less. Last season’s clash saw the two teams enter the locker room all tied at 35-35 before ETSU’s second half explosion.
The series between the Catamounts and Bucs got underway during the 1932 campaign, as the Bucs won in Cullowhee, and in fact, ETSU claimed the first six meetings in the series, out-scoring the Catamounts a conbined 85-2. Western Carolina’s first win in the series wouldn’t come until the until 1948, as the Catamounts were able to score what was a 32-12 win in Johnson City.
The Bucs and Catamounts play for a piece of Blue Ridge Mountain, with the winner of the game getting the trophy. The rivalry game began back during the 2018 season.
One of the more memorable meetings between the two was the 2016 campaign, as the two rivals met at Bristol Motor Speedway in a historic game between the two and for the Southern Conference.
In that 2016 meeting, the Bucs were able to carve out a 34-31 win, despite an 18-point first-half deficit, scoring 24 unanswered points to come away with the win. The game against the Catamounts also marked the first Southern Conference game for the Bucs since 2003.
The turning point in the contest came with the Catamounts holding a 21-3 lead with two minutes remaining in the half, and Western Carolina looking poised to add to the lead.
A 43-yard completion to Western Carolina wide receiver Spearman Robinson appeared to put the Catamounts in position to add to the lead, but he was tackled at the 30-yard line, and Bucs defensive back Daren Ardis punched the ball loose and teammate Kevin Ferguson recovered the football with just 1:23 remaining until the half. Little did anyone know at that time that the play would be the turning point in ETSU picking up its first SoCon win in 13 years.
4. “The Battle of I-85” Furman vs. Wofford (Furman leads 55-33-7)
Furman and Wofford is not only one of the oldest rivalry in the state of South Carolina, but also one of the oldest rivalries in the Deep South, even pre-dating the “Deep South’s oldest rivalry”, between Georgia and Auburn, which got its start in 1by two years, as the Paladins and Terriers first did battle on the college football gridiron back in 1889, with Wofford able to score a 5-1 victory over the
Paladins in Spartanburg.
The rivalry has seen some great games over the years, especially since Wofford joined the FCS (formerly Division I-AA) in 1996. The two programs have tremendous overall winning traditions, having combined to win 21 Southern Conference titles and make a combined 30 FCS playoff appearances in their respective histories.
The Paladins and Terriers will be meeting for the 26th time since the Terriers joined the Southern Conference as an official member back in 1997, with the Paladins holding a narrow 14-11 series edge in the all-time series.
The two programs have met in every season since 1995, with the Paladins holding the 16-11 series edge.
In last season’s meeting, Furman was able to post a 42-20 win in Spartanburg, snapping what had been a six-game losing streak in the series at Gibbs Stadium, dating back to 2008.
Prior to the 22-point win this past season, the Paladins last claimed a win in Spartanburg back in 2006, posting a 35-21 win over the then No. 21 Terriers.
There have been plenty of memorable meetings between the two since the Terriers joined the Southern Conference as an official member in 1997.
The Thursday night prior to the game in 2002, Wofford decided to organize a pep rally to garner hype for the upcoming matchup in the I-85 rivalry between the ninth-ranked Paladins and 10th-ranked Terriers.
After an effigy of then-Furman signal-caller Billy Napier was burned, Wofford’s then legendary head coach Mike Ayers made a short speech in which he guaranteed a win over Furman. As we now know, it didn’t end with the same result as Joe Namath’s predicted victory in Super Bowl V.
The Paladins would play in the sloppy mess of Gibbs Stadium that afternoon against the Terriers with a collective chip on their shoulders, as each Furman player had a copy of the Spartanburg Herald’s article chronicling that Thursday night’s event at which Ayers spoke and Napier’s No. 19 jersey and effigy burned in their respective lockers.
The game would be close throughout, however, with the Paladins trailing 21–17 after J.R. McNair’s 41-yard scoring run with just under four minutes remaining, it looked as though Ayers’ bold predictions might come to fruition.
However, Napier would come back to burn Wofford, driving the Paladins 74 yards in 4:12, and the Paladins would take the lead in the driving rain, as Napier connected with Brian Bratton — now Furman’s wide receiver’s coach — on a short 7-yard pass for a score with just 29 seconds remaining, giving the Paladins a 23–21 lead.
Instead of attempting the two-point conversion, which Paladin fans remember that for its infamous result against Appalachian State earlier in the season, Napier knelt on one knee instead of attempting or pass in the con-ditions.
Furman’s defense would hold off a hail Mary attempt from the Terriers and the game ended, as did Ayers and the Terriers’ SoCon title and Division I-AA playoff hopes. It was the start of a rivalry between the two coaches, who both know a little about winning big games in the SoCon.
Ayers would get his SoCon title on Furman’s field a year later, as the Terriers handed the Paladins a 10–3 setback at Paladin Stadium, as Wofford finished the season unbeaten in SoCon play.
The 2017 game was another memorable one, as the battle between Wofford and Furman would kick off the season for both teams, and it would be a memorable game. It was Clay Hendrix’s first game as head coach of Furman, and though no one knew it at the time, it would be the last season-opener for the eventual SoCon Hall-of-Fame inductee Ayers, who retired at season’s end.
The two Southern Conference rivals with great pedigree as championship-
laden programs opened the season against each other for the first time since 1946.
No. 11 Wofford claimed a thrilling f Furman, 24–23, at Gibbs Stadium. The
win marked by the Terriers marked the first time since joining the SoCon as an official member in 1997 that Wofford had claimed wins in three-consecutive seasons over the Paladins.
Trailing 24–17 with 2:46 remaining, the Paladins got the ball back with one final opportunity to score in the contest.
Furman needed 76 yards on its final possession to find paydirt, and
following a 21-yard pass from P.J. Blazejowski-to-Thomas Gordon to get the ball to the Wofford 44 to keep the Paladin drive alive with a little over a minute left.
On the very next play, Furman junior running back Triston Luke sprinted 44 yards down the Paladin sideline for a potential game-tying score with a successful PAT.
After a timeout, however, the Paladins opted to go for two and the potential winning points in head coach Clay Hendrix’s first game at the helm of the Furman football program.
The Paladins would go to their bag of tricks on the two-point play, as Furman used a direct snap to Ridge Gibson who then pitched on an end-around to freshman wideout Ryan DeLuca, who tossed the ball towards into triple coverage for intended receiver Blazejowski, but Wofford defensive back Malik Rivera intercepted the DeLuca offering, essentially preserving the one-point, 24-23, win.
3. “The Rail Rivalry” (East Tennessee State vs. Chattanooga/UTC leads 24-19-1
Another recent rivalry that has gained a trophy to play for in the Southern Conference is the matchup between East Tennessee State and Chattanooga, as the two commenced the “Rail Rivalry” in 2018, however, the gridiron rivalry between the two goes back much further.
The two Volunteer State programs, who will meet on Oct. 1, 2022, and will likely go a long way in deciding the league champion this season, as the two are picked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in the Southern Conference preseason polls.
Both East Tennessee State and Chattanooga have one of the neatest rivalry trophies in all of FCS football, as the two play for an actual railroad tie that connects the cities of Johnson City and Chattanooga, which are separated by 216 total miles.
The two first met on the football gridiron back in 1961, with the Mocs claiming a 27-6 win at historic Chamberlain Field in Chattanooga, Tenn. The Mocs hold a narrow 24-19-1 all-time series advantage, with the two engaging in some really good clashes in the rivalry’s history.
Since East Tennessee State brought back its football program and re-joined the Southern Conference, the Bucs and Mocs have met on the gridiron on five occasions, with the Mocs having taken four of those five meetings since 2016.
The Mocs handed ETSU its lone Southern Conference loss last season, as the Mocs posted a 21-16 win over ETSU in Johnson City, in what was a game between the preseason favorite to claim the league title, and the team that would eventually win the league crown.
In what was no doubt Chattanooga’s biggest win of the 2021 season, the Mocs got a banner day from their ground attack, as the running back duo of Ailym Ford and Tyrell Price combining to rush for 193 yards, as Chattanooga rushed for 235 of its 317 total yards in the contest.
Price scored the only points of the opening half of play, scampering eight yards for a touchdown to give the Mocs a 7-0 halftime lead.
After a career long 51-yard field goal by ETSU’s Tyler Keltner got the Bucs to within four wiith nine-and-a-half minutes remaining in the third quarter, Ford would answer with one of two scoring runs for the Mocs on the sun-splashed fall Saturday in the Scenic City, sprinting 49 yards for a score to bring the Finley Stadium crowd to its feet and give the Mocs a 14-3 lead with 4:42 left in the third quarter.
ETSU’s Jacob Saylors answered with a big play in the Bucs ground attack, racing 58 yards for a score to get the Bucs back within four, offering an answer by the eventual league champions just sixty-five seconds after Ford’s long run.
Chattanooga’s Tyrell Price would continue the theme of big plays on the ground just past the midway point of the final quarter, as his 54-yard scamper with 6:43 remaining in the contest giving the Mocs a seemingly comfortable 21-10 lead.
The Bucs would answer late, as quarterback Tyler Riddell, who ran for his life most of the afternoon, having been chased and hit by Mocs defensive linemen, found Will Huzzie for a 22-yard scoring strike with just 35 seconds remaining, getting the Bucs within five (21-16) after the failed two-point conversion. The Mocs recovered the ensuing onsides kick, however, to close out the win.
A big part of the Mocs’ third-straight win in the ‘Rail Rivalry’ was defensive end Devonnsha Maxwell, who broke his own single-game sacks record set earlier in the season in a win over North Alabama, as he finished the contest against the Bucs with 4.5 sacks, which was one more sack than he had in the road win over the Lions.
The 4.5 sacks were a school record, and the Mocs’ win over top 10 opposition marked their first since defeating No. 8 Samford, 23-21, on Oct. 28, 2017.
The rivalry has featured plenty of close games, as well 18 of the previous 43 meetings have been decided by a touchdown or less, including each of the past four meetings in the series.
One of the memorable blowouts occurred during the 2003 campaign, which also happened to be the final one before the Bucs would cancel the program, as the Bucs would make the most of the meeting at the Memorial Center on Nov. 15, 2003, in what would turn out to be a record-setting day in the series for the Bucs.
In that 2003 meeting, ETSU scored 41 points in the second quarter alone, making good on a pair of INTs, as well as a pair of blocked punts, turning those into scores, and the game suddenly became lopsided.
The 41 points in the second quarter by the Bucs marked the second-highest total points in league history, with only Davidson’s 49 points in the second quarter of a 77-14 win over Furman in 1969 accounting for more. Meanwhile, the ETSU defense grounded the Mocs offense, surrendering only 21 total yards in the second quarter to take complete control of the contest.
Highlighting the scoring in the second quarter for the Bucs was a 90-yard INT return for a score by Allen Davis, which was bested only by longer INT returns in program history–a 100-yard return by Rick Harris in 1986 and a 96-yard return for a score by Charlie Wells in 1976.
The Mocs’ largest win in series history would come in 2016, which was the first time the Mocs and Bucs had met on the gridiron since that 2003 rout by the Bucs, as Chattanooga posted a 37-7 win over the Bucs in Johnson City.
In that 2016 meeting, the Mocs would end up out-gaining the Bucs by a total of 397-143 in total offense, as the Mocs defense held the Bucs to less than 100 yards on the ground (217-92) and through the air (180-51) en route to the 30-point blowout victory. After gaining 71 yards in the opening quarter of the contest, the Bucs could only manage a grand total of 61 the entire remainder of the game.
All five Mocs touchdowns came on the ground in the contest, with each of the scoring runs coming in a distance of two yards or less. Derrick Craine would end up leading the balanced UTC ground attack, posting 63 yards and three touchdowns on 19 carries. Chattanooga went on to finish second in the Southern Conference, advancing to the FCS Playoffs, eventually bowing out of the postseason in the quarterfinals with a 41-36 loss at Sam Houston State.
The Mocs joined the Southern Conference as an official gridiron member in 1976, and have won seven league crowns and have made four FCS playoff appearances.
ETSU, meanwhile, has won two Southern Conference titles-with both of those coming since re-starting its football program in 2016–and have made three FCS playoff appearances. The Bucs, who won a school-record 11 games last season and posted a 7-1 SoCon record and first outright league crown, will be under the direction of a new head coach this fall, as former Furman offensive coordinator George Quarles takes over as the head coach.
Chattanooga travels to Johnson City for a game that could very well decide the 2022 Southern Conference champion. It will mark the 45th meeting between the SoCon’s Tennessee representatives, with kickoff set for 7:30 p.m. EST at William B. Greene Stadium in Johnson City on Oct. 1.
2. “The Battle for the Silver Shako” (VMI vs. The Citadel/The Citadel leads 43-32-3)
The rivalry between VMI and The Citadel, which is better known as either the “Battle for the Silver Shako” or “The Military Classic of the South” has given the Southern Conference both a national acclaim and a unique prestige, with it being the only conference in FCS football to boast a rivalry between two military institutions.
Over the years, the rivalry has enjoyed some great games, and is usually a game that comes down to the wire no matter either team’s rivalry.
The final week of the regular season would prove to be the crowning achievement for VMI, ending what had been a 43-year wait to lift the Southern Conference championship trophy. It would come about in fitting fashion, as the Keydets also lifted the Silver Shako trophy for the second-straight season, knocking off bitter rival The Citadel, 31-17, to finish out the SoCon’s first-ever spring season.
In a 2020-21 season of several firsts for the VMI football program, perhaps the most interesting one and most prestigious one is the fact that the Keydets will be making their first-ever FCS playoff appearance.
At the end of a spring filled with opt outs and some teams around the league looking for reasons to turn in their helmets and uniforms, VMI answered the battlecry each and every Saturday as the schedule allowed. The season obviously got off to a strange start, as Chattanooga canceled the opener with the Keydets due to positive COVID-19 tests within the Mocs football program.
With their 31-17 win over The Citadel on Saturday afternoon at Foster Stadium, not only did the Keydets retain the Silver Shako, but collected some hardware that hasn’t been seen in Lexington, VA., since 1977–a Southern Conference title trophy.
With Mercer’s 44-20 loss at Samford Saturday, which ended prior to the end of the Keydets-Bulldogs clash in Lexington, the result of the Silver Shako game didn’t necessarily matter in terms of the overall Southern Conference title, however, the Keydets obviously wanted to finish out the spring season in style with a win against their arch-rivals.
With the 14-point win, VMI claimed its eighth SoCon title, claiming league titles in 2020-21, 1951, ‘57, ‘59, ‘60, ‘62, ‘74 and ‘77.
In 2021, The Citadel snapped a two-game winning streak in the series, claiming what was a 35-24 victory in Charleston.
One of the few, but costly times that Scott Wachenheim’s Keydets didn’t look as if they were prepared to be the hunted was in the early October meeting with arch-rival The Citadel, and that was apparent from the opening snap of the game, when Bulldogs quarterback Jaylan Adams connected with wideout Raleigh Webb on the opening play from scrimmage, as the two hooked up for an 80-yard scoring connection.
The Keydets would find themselves chasing the game for the remainder of the afternoon, as the Bulldogs avenged a loss in the spring season, which clinched VMI’s first SoCon regular-season crown since 1977, as The Citadel would end up taking a 35-24 win at Johnson-Hagood Stadium.
VMI trailed from the outset of the contest in Charleston, but did get within four points, at 28-24, in the fourth quarter when Korey Bridy ran it in from four yards out, cutting the Bulldogs’ lead to 28-24 just five seconds into the final frame.
However, the Bulldogs would seal the win on a 22-yard run by Emeka Ewanze with 6:29 remaining to put the Bulldogs back up two scores, effectively sealing the win.
The Silver Shako has been presented as the trophy to the winner of the game since 1976. The Shako is a military headdress worn by the cadets at both The Citadel and VMI. The Bulldogs enter the 2022 edition of the rivalry holding a 43-32-2 all-time series edge.
The two will be meeting for the 78th time when they square off on Nov. 19, which will close out the regular-season. A kickoff time for the game at Foster Stadium has still yet to be announced.
The series between the two got its start back in 1920, with VMI getting a 35-0 win in Lexington, VA. The Keydets would claim wins in the first two games in the series before the Bulldogs garnered a hard-fought, 7-6, win in Charleston in 1930.
The Keydets would claim what was a 34-21 contest in Charleston in 2019, which snapped a 12-game losing streak in the series.
VMI not only was it the first win over The Citadel since 2002, it was also the first win for the Keydets over The Citadel in Charleston since 1995.
VMI’s 13-point win over the Bulldogs to claim the 2019 Silver Shako was something to take note of, and it was evidence of patience with head coach Scott Wachenheim and staff was absolutely taking the right approach to turning around the program. Little did anyone know at that time that a SoCon title would be in the very near future.
In the 2019 win over the Bulldogs, VMI used a balanced offense, which out-gained the Bulldogs 421-311 pn the day, including out-rushing the Bulldogs, 86-78, in the contest. The 78 yards gained by the Bulldogs on the ground were in fact a season low.
Prior to its win in 2019, the previous win by VMI came way back in 2002 in Charlotte, at Bank of America Stadium, as the Keydets claimed what was a 23-21 in a driving rainstorm.
VMI went to the locker room trailing that contest 13-7 at the half, however, would begin the comeback trail by putting together a 13-play, 85-yard drive that took 6:47 off the third quarter clock before T.J. Snellings would burst up the middle for a 2-yard scoring plunge, tying the game, 13-13. The Keydets could have taken a one-point lead on the PAT, but couldn’t secure the hold following a shaky snap in the deluge-like conditions, keeping the score tied.
VMI then assumed possession of the ball deep in The Citadel territory following a fake punt attempt at the Bulldog 44, setting up Matt Sharpe’s 22-yard field goal to give the Keydets a 16-13 lead. When VMI defensive tackle Matt Kluk recovered a fumble on The Citadel’s next possession, giving the ball to the Keydet offense at the Bulldog 15 with 10:03 remaining, it would set up John Bell’s 17-yard scoring catch from quarterback Joey Gibson, increasing the Keydet lead to 10, at 23-13.
The Citadel would make things interesting late, when Auburn transfer quarterback Jeff Klein connected with wideout Scooter Johnson for what was a five-yard scoring pass to make it a 23-21 game with 2:07 remaining.
After holding the Keydets, The Citadel would get the ball back with just 27 seconds remaining, however, after moving to their own 48, Klein’s desperation Hail Mary pass attempt as time expired was batted down, and the Keydet fans and players erupted in celebration.
- Furman vs. The Citadel (Furman leads 61-37-3)
No two teams have faced each. other more in Southern Conference history, and no two teams hate each other more. In fact, you could certainly make the argument that the hate is palpable when these two Palmetto State foes meet each other on the college football gridiron.
Furman and The Citadel is absolutely one of the best rivalries in Division I college football, and it’s one that has featured everything from a stolen mascot that was painted blue and had to be euthanized-to-field graffiti. There’s plenty of campfire stories from both sides of this rivalry.
But while the off-the-field stories and antics have been fun, the on-field football has been even better. When the two meet in Charleston on Oct. 8, it will mark the 102nd all-time clash between the two, with Furman holding a 61-37-3 all-time edge.
The most recent edition of the rivalry saw Furman snap a two-game skid against the Bulldogs, picking up what was a 24-14 win in Greenville.
The Bulldogs have enjoyed the better of the series of late, winning five of the past eight meetings between the two programs. The first-ever meeting between the two came on Nov. 1, 1913, with the Bulldogs walloping the Paladins, 75-0, in Charleston.
The two have seen only two interruptions in the all-time series, as the programs didn’t meet from 1943-45, due to World War II, and also did not meet in the fall of 2020, which was as the result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
When the two met on a chilly October evening last fall at Paladin Stadium, it marked the first start for Paladin true freshman signal-caller Jace Wilson, and he looked good early before the Bulldog defense made some adjustments and made Wilson look very much like a freshman.
Fortunately for Paladin fans, their veteran defense came up big late, as senior linebacker Elijah McKoy came up with maybe the most spectacular defensive play made by anyone in the league all season last fall.
It was the fifth-year senior’s caused fumble on a Jaylan Adams option pitch in a tense, 17-14, game midway through the fourth quarter that changed the complexion of the 101st meeting between the two heated rivals.
On 1st-and-10 at the at The Citadel 43, McKoy’s timing was impeccable, breaking through The Citadel line unblocked and batted the pitch down, falling on the ball at The Citadel 31.
Seven rushing plays later, the Paladins took back their two-score lead when Devin Abrams broke through the Bulldog line for a 1-yard scoring plunge on 3rd-and-goal, with 3:36 remaining to make it a 24-14 game.
The win was arguably the sweetest victory of the season for Clay Hendrix’s Paladins, and at that moment of the season the Paladin defense was playing some of the best football of anyone in not only the SoCon.
It came just six months after the Paladins were dominated on the road at Johnson Hagood Stadium, dropping the 27-6 contest on a day when Furman’s offense was seemingly non-existent.
At the very same time the Paladin defense was doing its thing at the very mid-point of the 2021 fall season, it was the emergence of a dominating running game that also had Paladin fans excited. Playing mostly without Devin Wynn, who had been injured a week earlier in a win at Wofford, the emergence of Dominic Roberto in the backfield was something that would be a theme for the latter part of the season.
Roberto, Wayne Anderson, Jr., Devin Abrams, starting quarterback Jace Wilson and Kendall Thomas combined to rush for 205 yards, but it was Roberto that did a lion’s share of the work, rushing for a career-best 132 yards and a score on just 12 carries. The 5-11, 242-lb sophomore’s 90-yard rumble accounted for the second-longest scoring run in program history.
Furman’s 205 yards on the ground was a large bulk of its 289 yards of total offense on just 52 total plays. Furman quarterbacks Jace Wilson (4-of-12, 89 yds, 1 TD) and Hamp Sisson (0-of-3) combined to go just 4-of-15 for yards and a TD through the air.
In fact, the Bulldogs owned advantages in total plays (89-52), total yards (364-289), time of possession (36:45-21:59), rushing yards (241-205) and passing yards (123-84). However, the Paladins did manage to win the turnover battle (3-2).
It was a significant turning point in the wrong direction for The Citadel and head coach Brent Thompson for much of the latter portion of the 2021 fall season. The Bulldogs would eventually get their season back on track late in the 2021 campaign, finishing out by winning their final two games to carry momentum forward into the off-season.
Furman and The Citadel have enjoyed some thrilling games in the past, with Furman’s first of 14 Southern Conference titles requiring a goal line stand to hold off Bulldog legendary running back Stump Mitchell, as Furman held on for a 17-13 win at Sirrine Stadium to claim a share of the 1978 Southern Conference crown.
It remains one of the seminal moments in Furman’s 116 seasons of football. The 1990 clash saw a clash of ranked squads for the second time in a three-year span, as the Paladins entered the clash sporting the nation’s No. 13 in the Division I-AA poll, while the Bulldogs ranked two spots higher, at No. 11.
With the Southern Conference regular-season crown on the line before a crowd of a packed beyond capacity crowd of 18,190 fans on-hand at Paladin Stadium, the Paladins ran to a 30-17 win, with Carl Tremble rushing for 202 yards and a pair of scores, while Billy Stockdale added 123 rushing yards, as the Paladins went on to polish off a third-straight Southern Conference crown.
The Citadel has also enjoyed some of its greatest football moments in the rich rivalry between the two Palmetto State programs. It was during the Bulldogs’ golden era that they enjoyed some of their most memorable moments in the series, with most Citadel fans holding the 1991 and ’92 wins over the Paladins in particularly high regard.
Led by quarterback Jack Douglas and fullback Everette Sands, the Bulldogs, led by legendary Citadel coach Charlie Taaffe, posted a 10-6 win in ’91 and a 20-14 win over the Paladins in a driving rainstorm in ’92.
It was the 1998 meeting between the two that saw the Bulldogs forge a comeback for the record books. It was October 17, 1998, and Paladin Stadium was especially alive with the home-side nearly fully purple and white on what was a beautiful, mid-October Saturday afternoon.
It looked as if it would be a near-perfect sequence of events on that particular homecoming Saturday, and after the Paladins jumped out to a 21-0 lead early in the second quarter, it looked like a homecoming win over the arch-rival Bulldogs would be a mere formality.
Furman wide receiver Des Kitchings was in high gear on that afternoon, scoring two of the Paladins three TDs in the contest—one of which came on 65-yard run on a reverse, and the other coming on a 52-yard pass from quarterback Justin Hill early in the second quarter, which gave the Paladins a 21-0 lead with 10:30 remaining in the half.
That is where the perfect Saturday for the Paladins would end, however, as the Bulldogs stormed back dominated the next 40 minutes of football. It was Citadel signal-caller Stanley Myers and running back Antonio Smith that did a large majority of the damage, as the duo would keep the Paladin defense off-balance the remainder of the game to help the Bulldogs to the 25-24 win.
Myers connected on an astounding 18-of-19 passes in the contest for 167 yards and a TD, while Smith rushed for 110 yards and a couple of TDs to help the Bulldogs rebound for the win. Myers completed 18-straight passes against the Paladin defense, setting a new Southern Conference standard for consecutive pass-completions in a single game. That record would later be shattered by Appalachian State’s Richie Williams, also against the Paladins, when he completed 28-consecutive throws against the Paladins in 2004.
Trailing by a single point, the Paladins had a chance to win the contest late in the fourth quarter, driving all the way to the Citadel 31, but Jason Wells’ potential game-winning field goal was blocked by Citadel cornerback Marcus Johnson and the Bulldogs were able to preserve the one-point, come-from-behind win.
The Citadel welcomes the return of 15 starters (5-offense/10-defense) for the 2022 campaign, and enter the 2022 season selected to finish eighth in the league’s coaches poll, while placing ninth in the media poll. The Bulldogs and Paladins will tee-it-up at 2 p.m. in Johnson-Hagood Stadium on Oct. 8.
The 2022 football season is nearly upon us, and these are just some of the rivalries that are part of the great brand that both FCS and, in particular, the SoCon offer.
Some of those, like Appalachian State, Marshall, and Georgia Southern will now continue at the FBS level in the Sun Belt Conference, with the latest addition to the SBC, which also at one time called the SoCon home, being the Marshall Thundering Herd.
Discontinued SoCon Rivalries:
“Battle For The Old Mountain Jug” (Appalachian State vs. Western Carolina)
The Series: Appalachian State Leads 59-18-1
The Jug Trophy Games: Appalachian leads 31-7/1976
Brief Summary: Though this rivalry actually started in 1932 when the Mountaineers and Catamounts first squared off against each other on the gridiron in Boone under the direction of then head coach C.B. Johnson. The Mountaineers went on to a 20-0 win on that occasion. In fact. App State dominated the rivalry from its inception, claiming wins in the first 13 meetings between the two programs, outscoring the Catamounts 263-30 in those games.
The two teams wouldn’t start playing with the old mountain jug on the line until 1976, when Yosef Club Director Wayne Clawson and Catamount Club Director Tom Bommer helped establish the trophy the two teams would play for-a 25-pound corn whiskey container-and support for the game was led by both school’s sports information directors, Steve White (Western Carolina) and Rick Layton (Appalachian State).
The design on the mountain jug, which is painted yellow with each school’s mascot delicately detailed on each side of the trophy, was originally painted by the wife of Roby Triplett, who managed the Appalachian State bookstore. The late Dee Triplett, who taught science and biology at Hardin Park Elementary School in Boone, is responsible for painting the trophy gold, adding each school’s logo on the respective sides and the legend of one of the coolest college football rivalry trophies was born.
Appalachian State has won 28 of the past 30 meetings between the two, including 14-straight. The last time they met on the gridiron the Mountaineers posted a 48-27 win on Nov. 23, 2013 at Kidd Brewer Stadium. The Mountaineers became a full-time member of the Sun Belt Conference following the 2013 season.
Furman vs. Marshall
The Series: Furman leads 15-8
Brief Summary: Fans on both sides of this rivalry have a story or two to tell about the rivalry, which started to heat up in the early 1980s, when Marshall’s football program finally started to steady itself after the tragic plane crash over a decade earlier, which claimed the lives of the entire football team and staff following a flight back from East Carolina on Nov. 14, 1970.
Marshall joined the Southern Conference in 1977, and at that time, the Furman football program was just coming into its own as a league and eventually a national power. The Paladins won the first 12 games in this memorable rivalry of hate.
In 1988, the Thundering Herd had put together quite a contingent of talent under the direction of head coach George Chaump. In the first of what would be two meetings during that ’88 season, the Thundering Herd would win the first of two clashes between the two, which also also happened to be the first win in series history for Marshall, as the Herd captured a 24-10 win in Huntington, WVa.
The second meeting would come in the Division I-AA playoffs, as Furman traveled back to Fairfield Stadium where the two league co-champions would face each other in the Division I-AA quarterfinals.
This time the Paladin defense, which was led by the likes of linebacker Jeff Blankenship and defensive end Kelly Fletcher, would corral the Herd’s high-powered passing’ attack, which was powered by quarterback Greg Petersen, tight end Sean Doctor, and wide receiver Ron Barber.
The Paladins got revenge in the rematch, and the Paladin players were reminded by the coaching staff to leave their helmets on when leaving the field due to objects that could potentially thrown in the direction of the players when exiting the field. Furman held off the Herd for a 13-9 win in Huntington and went on to win the national title with a 17-12 win over Georgia Southern in Pocatello, Idaho.
Though Furman won 14 of the first 15 meetings, Marshall would claim wins in seven of the final eight games in the rivalry, which included handing Furman its worst playoff in its history in 1996, handing the Paladins a 54-0 setback. Led by quarterback Eric Kresser and wideout Randy Moss, the Herd went 15-0 and claimed the national title with a win over Montana.
Furman and Marshall have not met since that 1996 playoff game. Marshall will begin play in the Sun Belt this fall, renewing some old Southern Conference rivalries with the likes of Georgia Southern and Appalachian State.
Furman vs. Georgia Southern
The Series: Georgia Southern leads 16-9
Brief Summary: Furman and Georgia Southern enjoy a unique rivalry, with the first two meetings between the two having occurred in the Division I-AA (now FCS) national title game.
The Eagles got one of the more thrilling wins in the history of the FCS title game, claiming what was a 44-42 win in the 1985 national title game in Tacoma, Washington, which would be the first of six national titles at the FCS level for Georgia Southern.
The Eagles’ success on the FCS level started under Erk Russell as a Division I-AA independent program. Russell, the famed defensive coordinator for the famed “Junkyard Dawgs” defense of the early 1980s, took on the challenge of rebuilding a Georgia Southern defense from almost scratch, as he brought back football to South Georgia for the first time in 41 years.
Georgia Southern, which joined the Southern Conference in 1993, won three national titles under Russell (1985, ’86, and ’89) and one under Tim Stowers (1990) before the Eagles joined the SoCon as a full-time member.
The 1985 title win was a game which saw the Eagles post one of the more remarkable comebacks in championship game history, as the Eagles, who were led by quarterback Tracy Ham, came back from a 28-6 third quarter deficit to claim the 44-42 win.
Ham’s 13-yard scoring strike to Frankie Johnson with 10 seconds remaining, helped the Eagles take the two-point lead, and ultimately, the first of what would be six national titles. It was part of a 419-yard passing effort from Ham.
Three years later, the Paladins and Eagles would meet again in the title game–this time in Pocatello, Idaho–and once again the two teams would play a down-to-the-wire game in the national title, however, the theme would be a defensive-minded contest, with both giving up yards, but not points.
The Paladins got the big play they needed from All-American linebacker Jeff Blankenship, who intercepted Raymond Gross’ pass with 17 seconds remaining, helping Furman secure the 17-12 national title win. It remains the first and only national title for the Furman football program.
A year prior to joining the SoCon in 1992, the Stowers-led Eagles paid their first visit to Paladin Stadium, shutting down Furman, as the Eagles were 21-0 victors in Greenville.
Furman wouldn’t claim its first win over Georgia Southern as a conference rival until 1996, as the Paladins claimed what was a 21-14 win over the Eagles at Paladin Stadium.
Most Furman fans won’t soon forget the 2000 meeting with the Eagles, as Paul Johnson brought his top-ranked club to Paladin Stadium, having already clinched at least a share of the SoCon title.Furman needed a win to keep its postseason hopes alive. Johnson decided to bench his stud running back and all-time FCS leading rusher Adrian Peterson, who was nursing a minor injury.
The Paladins led 10-7 at the break, and the second half would belong to Furman running back Loius Ivory. Ivory not only set a school record, but also a SoCon regular-season record for rushing yards, rushing for 301 yards and three TDs and leading the Paladins to a lopsided 45-10 win over the Eagles.
The 301-yard rushing effort by Ivory helped propel him to the Walter Payton Award, which marked the second year in a row that a SoCon RB had claimed the prestigious award, with Georgia Southern great Adrian Peterson winning the highest offensive accolade honor a year earlier in 1999.
The 2001 season saw two classic games played between the schools, with Georgia Southern claiming a gritty 20-10 win in the regular-season home finale. Playing in front of the home folks for the final time, Adrian Peterson used the emotional, electric, sell-out atmosphere to rush for 158 yards on 24 attempts.
The two would meet against in the FCS semifinals, with the Paladins handing Georgia Southern its first postseason loss (27-0 coming in to the game) at Paulson Stadium, while also ending GSU’s 39-game winning streak.
Furman, which played without star running back Louis Ivory, used a trio of running backs to control the ball and the clock in a 24-17 win over the Eagles in front 11,827 stunned fans. The Furman defense also did its job in the contest, holding Adrian Peterson to a career-low 68 yards rushing in the contest.
With nothing on the line for GSU in 2003 except a winning season, the Eagles showed a great sense of pride in gutting out a 29-24 win over the Paladins in a game that featured a matchup between two great running backs, FU’s Hindley Brigham and GSU’s Jermaine Austin.
It was Brigham who began the fireworks that afternoon with an 80-yard scoring scamper, establishing a Paulson Stadium record for the longest rushing TD by an opponent.
However, it would be Austin that had the last laugh, rushing for 136 yards and a TD on 25 carries despite a slightly injured knee. GSU posted an impressive afternoon offensively, rolling up 448 yards against the nation’s third-ranked defense.
Sean Holland connected on five field goals, which accounted for more than half of GSU’s points, and tied Reed Haley’s school mark set against The Citadel in 1994.
A year later, an epic battle would ensue between the Paladins and Eagles. Furman came into the matchup ranked seventh in the nation, while the Eagles’ offense had been steamrolling their opponents to the tune of 49 PPG and 487 YPG.
The game would go down as yet another classic in a series that had become known for classic matchups.
Furman would win a 29-22 contest. The Paladin defense slowed the Eagle offense to 412 yards and 22 points in a matchup between the top teams in the SoCon.
The Paladins would get the game-winning score, with just over a minute left from fullback Jerome Felton to take a 27-22 lead. Following the win over the second-ranked Eagles, Furman would go on to claim the Southern Conference title in 2004
The Paladins claimed a win in the last meeting between the two, which came during Furman’s 2013 SoCon title campaign, as Furman would claim a 16-14 win at Allen E. Paulson Stadium in Statesboro.
The Eagles have been members of the Sun Belt since 2014, keeping alive its rivalry with Appalachian State, which also had its roots prior to Georgia Southern’s days as a league member, but really became one of the best rivalries in the FCS during GSU’s two decades as a SoCon member.
Appalachian State vs. Furman
All-Time Series: Furman leads 23-18-3
Brief Summary: Perhaps no rivalry in the history of the Southern Conference can compare to the one between Appalachian State and Furman when it comes to heart-stopping and bizarre finishes.
The Mountaineers and Paladins haven’t met since 2013, which was the final season before the Black and Gold left for the Sun Belt Conference, however, few fans of both the SoCon and FCS football will soon forget the fourth-quarter finishes that defined this series.
Furman was the gold standard of the SoCon gridiron throughout the decade of the 1980s, while Appalachian State was very much a program still trying to find its footing as an FCS football program.
Though Furman enjoyed almost all the success in the 1980s and ’90s in this rivalry, the disdain was noticeable from even the earliest games in the series between the two.
The 1984 meeting is one that Appalachian fans always point to as a time when they felt that their football program was beginning to show signs that it could be a future major player in the Southern Conference.
On that afternoon, the Paladins would taste a rare early defeat in the series to the Mountaineers at Conrad Stadium in Boone. The second-ranked Paladins would fall, 21-14, in Boone, and the goalposts would come down in Boone following the result.
The ’85 meeting saw the Paladins ride a strong running game to get what was a 104-yard rushing effort from John Drye en route to getting what was a 21-14 win in Greenville.
The 1986 clash would result in a 17-17 tie in Boone. It was a day that would belong to former Appalachian State great running back John Settle, who rushed for the second-most yards in school history against the Paladins, finishing the contest with 245 yards rushing in helping the Mountaineers to tie the reigning SoCon champions and national championship runner-up.
The 1987 campaign would be a breakthrough season for the Black and Gold, and posted just their third win in the series, including their first win in Greenville, as the Mountaineers posted what was a 16-8 win. It was part of what would turn into a first of what would become 13 Southern Conference title-winning campaigns for the Mountaineers.
Furman re-asserted its dominance in the rivalry a year later, as the Paladins traveled to Boone and handed the Mountaineers a 24-9 setback before a packed house at Conrad Stadium, ending a streak of 20-straight home Southern Conference wins for the Black and Gold. Furman quarterback Frankie DeBusk threw one touchdown and ran for two more, as the Paladins won their first of nine-straight games en route to a national title.
It would be the first of three-straight wins in the series, with the Paladins capturing back-to-back dominating wins of 31-6 and 30-7 in back-to-back seasons in ’89 and ’90, respectively.
The 1991 game between the Paladins and Mountaineers is one that will go down as potentially one of the greatest games in Southern Conference football history.
The instant classic that would play out at Paladin Stadium saw the visitor’s claim a key 26-23 triple-overtime win over Furman in what significant victory for the Mountaineers en route to the Southern Conference crown.
The game marked the first game in Southern Conference regular-season history to go to overtime and it turned out to be a game that the Mountaineers would decide with their excellent play on special teams.
Appalachian found itself trailing 17-9 late in the fourth quarter, but the game would change late in the fourth quarter when Mountaineer linebacker Brent David forced a Furman fumble to give the Mountaineers the football at the Furman 17 yard line.
Nate Abraham found the end zone for a quick TD for the Mountaineers, and instead of kicking the PAT, the Mountaineers decided to go for two, with Appalachian quarterback D.J. Campbell finding A.J. Ellis on a short pass, tying the contest, 17-17.
Regulation would end with the Paladins and Mountaineers tied, 17-17, and in over time, it would be placekicker Jay Millson who would prove to be the hero for Appalachian, as he connected on three of his four field goals in the extra session to help power the Apps past the No. 8-ranked Paladins.
Millson and Furman’s Andrew Burr connected on field goals in their first two attempts in overtime, but in the third overtime, Burr’s field goal was blocked by defensive back Steve Wilks, meaning all the Mountaineers needed was another Millson field goal to get an epic win.
Millson connected on his fourth field goal of the night, setting off wild celebrations on the Appalachian sidelines.
With back-to-back losses to Marshall and Appalachian State on its home turf, it marked the first time Furman lost consecutive home games since Paladin Stadium opened in 1981.
In 1992 and ’93, the Paladins would put together a pair of one-score wins in the series.
The 1992 clash in Boone saw the Paladins between the Paladins and Mountaineers was a low-scoring, defensive battle, which saw the Paladins find an unlikely hero in the form of place-kicker Jim Richter.
In his first game as a Paladin, Richter knocked home the game-winning 42-yard field goal, as the Paladins claimed what was a 16-13 before a crowd of 16,971 fans on-hand at Kidd-Brewer Stadium in Boone. The loss by the Mountaineers would prove to be a major dent in their Southern Conference title aspirations.
In 1995, the Mountaineers would put together a dominating defensive performance, sacking quarterback Braniff Bonaventure 11 times and put together one of the best opening halves of football in the history of Paladin Stadium, taking a 35-0 lead into the halftime break. The Paladins did gain some momentum in the second half, however, the Black and Gold held on for what was a 41-28 win.
Furman’s 1996 win in Boone would be its last in the series, though few could have foreseen that at the time. Under the direction of head coach Bobby Johnson, the Paladins were able to claim what was a 20-14 win in Boone, led by Ernest Crosby, who rushed for 155 yards and a pair of scores in the win.
The victory by the 13th-ranked Paladins over the 14th-ranked Mountaineers would see a change in trajectory for both teams. Furman would trend upwards from that point, making the 1996 playoffs and even winning a game, with a 42-31 opening round win at Northern Arizona. It would be Furman’s first playoff appearance since 1990.
Meanwhile, it would be a second-straight loss for Appalachian State, who lost a week earlier to East Tennessee State and still had juggernaut and unbeaten Marshall to play in late October, so the loss was pretty much a detrimental blow for ASU’s Division I-AA playoff hopes.
The Paladins used a late INT by Orlando Ruff of App State signal-caller Bake Baker to hold on for a 24-22 win in Grenville in ’97, while Appalachian State would get its revenge in Boone a year later, using a strong ground attack powered by quarterback Daniel Jeremiah and running back Terrence McCall to secure a 26-13 win.
Furman would close out the 1990s getting a memorable win in a game which it entered against the Mountaineers as heavy underdogs. Walter Booth tied a school record with three INTs, and the 25th-ranked Paladins knocked off No. 3 Appalachian State, 35-21. The Paladins would go on to a memorable 1999 season, winning nine games and tying with both the Mountaineers and Georgia Southern for the Southern Conference crown.
Appalachian State didn’t have to wait long to get the revenge it sought, winning a defensive battle, winning 18-17 in Boone in what was Joe Burchette’s first start under center for the Mountaineers.
Following a 28-22 win in 2001, which saw the Mountaineers limit reigning Walter Payton Award-winning running back to just 40 yards on 18 carries. Ivory and the Paladins still found a way to get a win over a talented Mountaineer team.
The 2001 game would set the stage for a game affectionately known to Mountaineer fans as “The Miracle on the Mountain” the following season. On Oct. 12, 2002, the game between Appalachian State and Furman would feature one of the most bizarre finishes in the history of the storied rivalry.
In one of the wildest finishes in the history of college football, Appalachian State scored a 16-15 win over Furman, as the Black and Gold went from gut-wrenching defeat to miraculous victory in the span of about 40 seconds.
Trailing the football game 14-9 with 5:39 to play, Furman put together an impressive 13-play, 73-yard drive, as Paladin senior quarterback Billy Napier connected on 5-of-6 passes on the drive, with the final one connecting with talented Furman senior wideout Bear Rinehart on a 12-yard strike, giving the Paladins a 15-14 lead with just 7.4 seconds remaining.
However, instead of going for the PAT and making it a 16-14 game, the Paladins opted to go for a two-point conversion. Furman was looking to play it conservative and not allow for a block and return for a score, however, it backfired when the play was changed at the line-of-scrimmage from run to pass.
Napier audibled out of the original play-call, which called for him to scramble to the side and just slide down.
Instead, he threw a tunnel screen intended for Brian Bratton which was intercepted by Jeffries, at the four-yard line. Jeffries, realizing he was not fleet enough to finish off the final 84 yards to the end zone, pitched the ball to one of the fastest players on the Mountaineer roster in defensive back Derrick Black at the 16, who sprinted the remaining 84 yards to complete the unthinkable.
It gave the Mountaineers a 16-15 lead, with 7.4 seconds remaining, as no time ran off the clock due to it being a dead ball play. It set off wild celebrations in the south end zone at The Rock, and the Mountaineers would be flagged for excessive celebration.
That would set up an on-sides kick attempt by the Paladins, which would be recovered by the Mountaineers as Josh Jeffries once again found the ball. The goalposts would come down at The Rock, as the Apps celebrated the improbable win.
Appalachian used what was a remarkable performance by defensive end K.T. Stovall, who garnered Division I-AA national Player of the Week accolades, as he totaled nine tackles, three sacks, forced a fumble and recovered another, as the Mountaineers turned the Paladins away empty in five trips to the red zone in the second half, holding on for a 13-10 win.
In 2004, Furman saw Richie Williams complete an NCAA Division I record 28-straight passes, as he completed 40-of-45 passes for 413 yards and two touchdowns, as the Mountaineers claimed a 30-29 win over the second-ranked Paladins, and handed Furman its only Southern Conference loss of the season, as the Paladins went to tie for the SoCon title with Georgia Southern.
In keeping the theme of thrilling finishes, the 2005 season would treat SoCon fans to two of them, with both once again coming down to the wire. The first of the two meetings occurred in the regular-season in Greenville.
The Paladins were the SoCon favorites coming into the 2005 campaign, while Appalachian wasn’t on the radar as a national title contender or Southern Conference title contender. Despite a losing a 34-31 decision in Greenville, the Apps went a long way in changing the minds of those who might have thought otherwise throughout the country.
However, this October afternoon belonged to Ingle Martin and the Paladins. Led by quarterback Richie Williams, ASU had an explosive spread offense. Furman countered with a big-play, balanced attack out of a pro-style attack, which still remains the best offense in program history.
The meeting would go down as one of the best ever in facility history. Sixth-ranked Furman came away with a 34-31 win over No. 16 Appalachian State.
The Paladins took a 17-14 lead into the halftime locker room, using a TD reception and run from running back Daric Carter, as well as a Scott Beckler 37-yard field goal.
Appalachian State looked like it might steal one in Greenville, as its defense began to get pressure on Martin, and the offense continued to find gaps in the Paladin defense. Williams threw a pair of fourth-quarter scoring passes to give the Apps a 31-26 lead with 5:02 to play, as the Mountaineers appeared to be on their way to their fourth-straight win in the series.
Furman quarterback Ingle Martin, who had led Furman on a game-winning drive a year earlier in front of the home folks against Georgia Southern, he would do a pretty good impersonation of that game-winning drive a little less than a year later against a talented Appalachian State football team.
With a little more time on the clock in this instance, Martin helped the Paladins drive 74 yards in 14 plays to take a 32-31 lead after Martin connected with wideout Patrick Sprague for a six-yard pass. Jerome Felton’s two-point conversion rumble allowed the Paladins to increase their advantage to a field goal, 34-31, with 31 seconds to play.
A key play in the drive came on a third-and-short for the Paladins, and Martin’s hard count forced the aggressive Mountaineers to jump off-sides, allowing Furman to stop the momentum of the ASU defense and allow the Paladins to get a first down with the penalty yardage.
The second meeting between the two in the 2005 campaign wouldn’t come until the Division I-AA semifinals, and it would be another epic encounter, which would eventually see the Mountaineers make their way to Chattanooga to play for their first-ever Division I-AA title.
In what was the most important game in the history of the series, Appalachian State was able to overcome the adversity of losing star quarterback and Walter Payton Award candidate Richie Williams, who suffered an ankle injury on Appalachian’s second possession of the day, as the Black and Gold scored a 29-23 Division I-AA Semifinal evictory over Furman at The Rock.
The win allowed the Mountaineers to advance to their first Division I-AA title game in school history, which the Mountaineers would win, 21-16, over Northern Iowa.
Palmetto State native Trey Elder, who was a standout at Byrnes High School just about 30 minutes up the road from the Furman campus, was able to come in for the injured Williams and lead the Mountaineers to the hard-fought victory, which saw the sophomore quarterback score the go-ahead TD with 2:17 left, giving the Mountaineers a six-point lead.
Trailing 23-21 midway through the fourth quarter, Elder helped the Mountaineer offense engineer an 11-play, 76-yard drive that culminated with a one-yard sneak to allow the Apps to take a 27-23 lead, and the Mountaineers would then opt to go for a two-point conversion, which would see Elder for the two-point play to make it a 29-23 Appalachian lead.
Elder proved clutch in the game-winning drive by the Apps, completing a pair of key passes, including a 28-yard strike to senior and fellow Spartanburg native Brandon Turner, as well as a 10-yard connection with Dexter Jackson.
Appalachian fans knew there was an eternity remaining, however, especially for one of the best quarterbacks in FCS football, in Furman’s Ingle Martin, who had completed such feats in lesser amounts of time in his career, including leading the Paladins to a thrilling 37-35 win over Jacksonville State to open the season.
Trailing 35-31, Martin needed less than 1:30 to engineer a 74-yard, game-winning drive in the season opener. The game culminated with a Martin nine-yard scoring pass to current Mountaineer wide receivers coach Justin Stepp with no time left, in one of the most memorable wins in Furman football history.
Martin put Mountaineer fans on the edge of their seats, leading the Paladins into Appalachian territory with less than 40 seconds remaining, but on a first-and-10 play from the Appalachian 36, a pair of Mountaineer senior defensive linemen combined to make one of the most memorable plays in Appalachian State football lore.
Jason Hunter charged through and drilled Martin, forcing the football loose, which was picked up by nose tackle Omarr Byrom and returned all the way to the Furman one-yard line, cementing the Mountaineers place in the Division I-AA National Title game, and setting off wild celebrations at The Rock with the conclusion of another classic between the Mountaineers and Paladins.
Appalachian would start off the game in strong fashion, fully intent on avenging the early-season loss to the Paladins, and Richie Williams and the Mountaineer spread offense was clicking on all cylinders, slicing through the Furman defense, much the same way as it had done in the earlier season matchup, when the Mountaineers had rolled up 468 yards against the Furman defense.
All-American running back Kevin Richardson helped the Apps close out the impressive 70-yard drive to open the scoring in the contest, as the Apps led 7-0 just 2:48 into the game.
After Appalachian forced a Furman punt, the Mountaineers were once again busy eating up yards and well on their way to another TD, when adversity struck.
Walter Payton Award candidate and senior quarterback Richie Williams froze the Paladin defense on a fake option pitch and got inside Furman territory before being tackled at the Paladin 45-yard line by Paladin safety Shelton Riley.
Williams stayed down and a once boisterous crowd grew suddenly quiet, as Williams was escorted off the field and did not return with an injured left ankle.
In stepped Elder, and on a beautiful option play-action fake which froze the Furman secondary, he found a wide open Jackson streaking behind the Furman secondary. The 45-yard connection stunned the Paladins, giving Appalachian the 14-0 lead with 6:36 remaining in the opening quarter.
Furman took control in the second quarter behind a punishing ground game and Martin’s play-action passing to build a 23-21 halftime lead. Jerome Felton ran for 105 yards and scored two touchdowns. Martin was 17-of-28 passing for 238 yards and rushed eight times for 49 yards, helping the Paladins pile up 507 yards of offense, with much of the damage by that powerful Paladin offense done in the second quarter.
Felton accounted for two of the three Paladin TDs in the second quarter, including a 31-yard rumble, in which the 245-pound beast of a fullback ran over All-American defensive back Corey Lynch on a run that fans of the Black and Gold still vividly recall as one of the most spectacular plays ever at The Rock by an opposing running back.
Leading 23-21 in the third quarter, Furman was in prime position to take a two-score advantage on a third-and-goal play from the five. Paladin quarterback Ingle Martin appeared to have a clear route to the end zone on a naked bootleg, however, he stumbled, without a Mountaineer defender within three yards of him, going down at the one-yard line on third down.
Instead of calling on the shaky Scott Beckler, Furman head coach Bobby Lamb decided to rely on his offense on a fourth-and-goal play. However, the Mountaineers stone-walled Jerome Felton as Jason Hunter and Pierre Banks met him in the backfield for a two-yard loss, helping the Apps regain the momentum.
Appalachian also had opportunities to re-take the lead in the third quarter, driving inside the 10-yard line, only to fumble the football away.
Elder would finish the day by completing 12-of-17 passes for 165 yards, with a passing TD and a rushing score, as the Mountaineer offense would roll up 436 yards against the Paladin defense. Richardson finished the day with 105 yards rushing and a pair of TDs on 26 carries.
The 2005 Division I-AA Semifinal game is one that won’t soon be forgotten by either fanbase, but especially those of the Black and Gold, who view that win as one of the biggest in program history simply due to the magnitude of it, and doing it against an arch-rival.
The ’05 win was the start of something special for Appalachian State, which went on to win three-straight national titles. It could be argued that Furman was the program that motivated Appalachian State the most to get it to be able to achieve the success it achieved at the FCS level.
The Mountaineers would end up having a significant stretch run against the Paladins before exiting the league following the 2013 campaign, as Appalachian won seven of the final nine meetings between the two foes, which included the 2005 semifinal contest, as that win commenced a streak of six-straight, which wouldn’t end until 2011, when the Paladins picked up a 20-10 win over the third-ranked Mountaineers in Greenville.
Furman would end up claiming the last meeting between the two as league rivals in 2013, claiming what was a 27-10 win in Greenville.
Appalachian State vs. East Tennessee State
All-Time Series: App State leads 33-14-1
The ASU-ETSU rivalry probably didn’t receive much fanfare because the the Bucs were often not among the elite teams on the Southern Conference gridiron in their previous stint as SoCon members, but it was a game that always seemed to draw great crowds, as the two schools were only separated by about a one-hour drive.
The Bucs played their home football games in the 13,000-seat Memorial Center—also known as the “Mini-Dome”—and weren’t one of the Southern Conference schools that drew particularly well, with the exception of the Appalachian State game.
Appalachian State and East Tennessee State met on 47 occasions, with the Mountaineers dominating the overall series, 33-14-1.
Appalachian State and East Tennessee State saw some significant milestones occur when the two squared off, with one of the greatest memories in the minds of Appalachian State fans being the 2002 meeting, when Appalachian State picked up a 29-10 road win over the Bucs.
Though the win was rather lopsided, Appalachian State head coach Jerry Moore would be carried off the field by a couple of Mountaineer linemen, as the veteran head coach became the Southern Conference’s all-time winningest head coach.
The 19-point win gave Moore his 111th win on the Appalachian State sidelines in his 14th season at the helm of the football program, surpassing former Duke head coach Wallace Wade’s previous record of 110 career wins from 1931-41 and 1946-50. Moore has nearly doubled that total since, and he will enter the 2012 season with 207 career wins.
Appalachian State suffered one of its most lopsided home losses in the history of the program in 1997. There was some irony in the 51-28 win on the first Saturday in October, as it was an Appalachian State graduate that coached the Bucs to the sound 23-point win on that afternoon.
Paul Hamilton, who was in his first season at the helm of the East Tennessee State football program, took over at a time when Buccaneer football was at its peak. The Bucs entered the 1997 season coming off of their first and only FCS (then Division I-AA) playoff appearance, and had soundly defeated Appalachian State, 31-10, the previous season in Johnson City.
The Bucs broke the game wide open, showing the nation why (at least for that Saturday) they were worthy of their No. 14 ranking, amassing over 500 yards of total offense en route to the road win over No. 6 Appalachian State.
Making the win even more impressive was the fact that the Buccaneers did it with a freshman quarterback, in the talented Todd Wells, who would go on to an outstanding career which would see him finish his four years in the Tri-Cities as the SoCon’s all-time leader in total offense. The win would mark the last victory the Bucs would ever garner against the Mountaineers, as ASU closed out the series by claiming six straight victories.
Two years later, the Apps and Bucs would play another memorable contest in front of a massive crowd at Kidd Brewer Stadium. The Mountaineers would hold on to get a 23-19 win in front of 24,343 fans, which at the time was the second-largest crowd in the history of Appalachian State football.
East Tennessee State provided the large partisan home crowd with some tense moments down the stretch, as the Bucs were nearly to the red zone inside the final 10 seconds, needing a TD to win the ball game.
With the nose of the football touching the 27-yard line and only eight seconds left, reserve Buccaneer quarterback Jamey Chadwell launched a pass intended for wideout Lamar Cooper; however, Mountaineer linebacker Weslan Hunter batted the ball away as time expired, and the Mountaineers held on for a heart-stopping home win over their mountain rival.
The win would be a momentum-building win for the Apps, who went on to finish the regular-season with a 7-1 Southern Conference record, and would finish in a three-way tie with Georgia Southern and Furman for the Southern Conference regular-season title.
ASU and ETSU began their rivalry as members of the old Smoky Mountain Conference. East Tennessee State claimed a 9-6 win in the first-ever meeting between the two schools on Nov. 28, 1928.
The Mountaineers and Buccaneers met twice in postseason games prior to Division I membership, as the two squared off as NAIA members in the postseason in the 1954 and ’55 seasons in the “Burley Bowl.” The Mountaineers claimed a 27-13 win in ’54, while the Bucs returned the favor in ’55 with a 7-0 win.
The two programs have met once since ETSU returned to the gridiron and FCS, while by the time football returned to the tai-cities, they were playing “big boy” football in the High Country, with App State having joined the FBS and the Sun Belt Conference following the 2013 season.
The meeting came in 2019, and ETSU, which played well for three quarters all things considered, finally ran out of gas late in the game against a good App State team, and the Mountaineers ended up blowing the game open in the last quarter-and-a-half to come up with a 42-7 win.
Check back in the next week or so for more rivalries to be added to the “discontinued rivalries” as well as some honorable mention rivalries that currently exist within the league. Among those to be added in the near future include Chattanooga-Marshall.