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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."
IT'S A GOOD question, a fair question, and here is the answer: Appalachian State is in Boone, N.C., tucked away in the Blue Ridge Mountains, a stone's throw from the Tennessee border. The Mountaineers are members of the overachieving Southern Conference, whose teams have beaten 24 I-A opponents since 1982. (Eight of those victories belong to Appalachian State.) App State, as it's known in conference, play in picturesque, inhospitable, 16,500-seat Kid Brewer Stadium, a.k.a. the Rock, where students tore down the goalposts last Saturday night, then deposited one of them on the front lawn of chancellor Kenneth Peacock. The school's fight song; Hi-Hi-yike-us/Nobody like us/We are the Mountaineers.
They made some new friends on Saturday. The Columbus Dispatch ran a poll on its website in which Ohio State fans were asked which gave them greater joy: the Buckeyes' 38-6 win over Youngstown State, or Michigan's loss? Schadenfreude won in a landslide. In East Lansing, after plowing for four touchdowns in Michigan State's 55--18 beatdown of Alabama-Birmingham, Spartans running back Jeehu Caulcrick said, "It felt like we won two games today."
In 2005 the Mountaineers were coming off of a 6--5 season and had missed the I-AA postseason for two straight years, but then Moore made a bold move. Long a believer in the I formation, the coach added a no-huddle, spread-option look to give the offense a change of pace. The spread worked so well that he junked the old system. "We haven't been in a huddle since the spring of 2005," says the 68-year-old Moore. Later that year App State beat Northern Iowa for the I-AA national championship.
Three games into last season, Moore entrusted the offense to freshman quarterback Armanti Edwards. A quicksilver lefty who's deft at reading defenses, Edwards got more comfortable each week. By season's end he'd thrown for 2,251 yards and rushed for 1,153, and the Mountaineers had defended their national title. "His greatest asset is his poise," says quarterbacks coach Scott Satterfield. "He has ice water in his veins."
Certainly the 19-year-old did not tremble upon taking the field at the Big House. None of the Mountaineers did. As Moore told the squad on the eve of the trip to Ann Arbor, "It's not like we haven't played in big games. The only difference is there's gonna be a lot more concrete."