Silence in the Big House
Using its speed and spread-option attack to run circles around the bewildered defense of No. 5 Michigan, Division I-AA Appalachian State kicked off an otherwise uneventful opening week with one of the biggest upsets in the history of the game
Posted: Tuesday September 4, 2007 9:00AM; Updated: Tuesday September 4, 2007 9:00AM
Lying on his back, gazing up at a bluebird sky framed by the oval of Michigan Stadium, Corey Lynch wondered if any of this was really happening. It was Lynch who moments earlier had come slicing off the edge to block Michigan's potential game-winning, 37-yard field goal attempt. It was Lynch, a four-year starter at free safety for Appalachian State, who scooped the ball in one fluid motion and set sail for the far end zone. "I wanted to take it to the house in the Big House," he said a few hours later. Instead, he was run down by Wolverines kicker Jason Gingell.
Maybe you're thinking that's the difference between Division I-A (which the NCAA has renamed the Bowl Subdivision) and Division I-AA (now the Championship Subdivision): A Division I-A safety doesn't get caught by a kicker. Wrong. Lynch was chased down because he'd played more snaps than anyone on the field last Saturday, and he'd been cramping since the third quarter. As he strained for the goal line, "I had knots in my calves," Lynch recalled, "and my legs started shivering."
Lynch's failure to score made no difference to the bottom line. By blocking that kick on the game's last play, the physics major from Cape Coral, Fla., sealed one of the most kinetic upsets in modern college football history: Appalachian State 34, No. 5 Michigan 32. Since the AP expanded its rankings to 25 teams in 1989, no I-AA team had ever beaten a ranked I-A squad -- let alone a Top 5 team and the winningest program in the history of the game.
The outcome was all the more bracing because it went against the theme of college football's opening week, which, for most of the elite teams, serves as a truncated exhibition season. But on a day when Florida held off Western Kentucky 49-3, Penn State edged Florida International 59-0 and Oklahoma survived North Texas 79-10, one designated sacrificial lamb sprouted talons and fangs. Someone put wasabi in Michigan's cupcake. "Watching them on film, we thought, This is a great team, but not invincible," said Lynch. "We respected them a lot, but we knew we could play with them."
That assessment turned out to be slightly off the mark. The Mountaineers, who've won the Division I-AA title the past two years, didn't just prove they could play with the Wolverines. For long stretches they ran circles around them.
The kicker brought down Lynch, but his teammates kept him there, dog-piling on and pummeling him ecstatically. Then they rose, some to hoist coach Jerry Moore on their shoulders, some to pose for pictures on the Block M at midfield, some to high-five members of the Mountaineers band. Junior cornerback Jerome Touchstone joined a conga line with the cheerleaders. Lynch stayed on his back "for a couple of minutes," partly because he wanted to bask in the moment, and partly because his teammates had knocked the wind out of him. "I was looking around, at 109,000 people, all quiet," he said. "I couldn't believe what I was seeing."