One team had won two consecutive national titles and was headed toward a third. It had a receiver who would go on to run an electronically timed 4.33-second 40-yard dash at the next NFL combine. It had offensive linemen who literally ate raw meat.
The other team was Michigan.
Put that way, Appalachian State’s 34-32 win on Sept. 1, 2007 doesn’t sound like such a monumental upset. As they headed to Ann Arbor, the Mountaineers didn’t consider the fifth-ranked Wolverines the Goliath they were made out to be after the game. Only later did the magnitude of their achievement dawn on the Appalachian State players. None of them would have been recruited by Michigan. The Mountaineers had won those national titles in the Football Championship Subdivision. They played in a stadium that at the time seated 16,650. On game day, 109,218 souls populated Michigan Stadium. Appalachian State had fewer football scholarships and far fewer resources than Michigan, then the winningest and always one of the wealthiest programs in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
But it was a huge upset, maybe the biggest in the history of the sport. And as a new Appalachian State team prepares to face a new Michigan team in the Big House on Saturday, SI looks back at how the 2007 Mountaineers changed their lives forever by vanquishing the Victors.
In 2005, schools voted to approve an NCAA rule that allowed a 12th regular-season game beginning in the 2006 season. This left programs scrambling to fill their schedules, which were usually set years in advance. ESPN brokered a game in ’06 between Michigan and Vanderbilt, but the Commodores declined a rematch in ’07. This left Michigan desperate for a season-opening opponent. In February of that year, it found one. The Wolverines would pay Appalachian State to come from tiny Boone, N.C., to Michigan Stadium. The price tag for the expected beating: $400,000.
Mike Flynn, Appalachian State associate athletic director/communications We were struggling to find games. We were actually two games short on our schedule. I was on a college football listserv. Somebody had dropped a game with Michigan real late. There were a bunch of articles. I saw those articles and I forwarded them to Jay Sutton. He was our associate AD for football operations, and he handles the scheduling for football. I sent him dozens of e-mails like that. That happened to be the one that stuck.
Jerry Moore, Appalachian State head coach, 1989-2012 Jay Sutton came to me and said Michigan had contacted him about a game. My first thought was, Whatever it takes, let’s play ’em. Most people refer to games like that as “money games.” We play Auburn, it’s a money game. North Carolina State, Wake Forest, LSU, they were always referred to as money games. Every once in a while, I’ll stumble around and say something that’s got some substance to it. From that point on, I always referred to it as an “opportunity game.”
Dan Mullen, Florida offensive coordinator 2004-08, current Mississippi State head coach [The Appalachian State] staff was there in the spring just to see how we ran practice. We were changing because we had Tim Tebow coming in as the starter that year, and they had a really athletic quarterback. They wanted to see what things we were doing to utilize Tim at quarterback.
Mark Speir, Appalachian State defensive line coach 2005-08, current Western Carolina head coach Those offensive guys were telling us they were going to score points on them. I remember us defensive coaches wondering what they were smoking in their room. We wanted some of that.
The Wolverines dwarfed the Mountaineers. Appalachian State’s starting offensive line averaged 276 pounds. Michigan’s averaged 297, and the Wolverines were led by 315-pound left tackle—and future No. 1 overall draft pick—Jake Long. But Appalachian State did have plenty of speed. Since the large, fast players in the South mostly signed with ACC and SEC schools, Moore and his staff collected small, fast players such as 5-9, 182-pound receiver Dexter Jackson and 5-11, 182-pound quarterback Armanti Edwards.
Jeff Dillman, Appalachian State strength coach 2006-09, current Florida strength coach I had a feeling—a gut feeling—the whole week of the game. I played the Michigan fight song all week long in the weight room. Just to piss them off. I said, “Guys, you’re going to hear this all day long in the freakin’ Big House.”
I used to raise hell all the time, talk smack to the players. … What people misunderstood was you had back-to-back [FCS] national champion players on that team. They believed in winning. And I was at LSU in ’05 when Appalachian State came to LSU. LSU was beating them 14-0 at halftime, and [Appalachian State] had dropped two open touchdown passes. The final score was 24-0. … So [Michigan] had their dukes down because they thought we were going to step on the field and be intimidated. It didn’t happen. … The whole offseason, I’d go through the schedule with them, week-by-week. I said, “Guys, let me tell you right now, we’re going to be more explosive than them. We’re going to be a lot stronger than them. And we’re going to be faster than them. They may be bigger. They may be bigger than a house. But you’re going to be surprised how much stronger you are and how much more explosive you are than them.”
Dexter Jackson, Appalachian State receiver 2004-07 We were tired of it. We just wanted to hear our band playing.
Kerry Brown, Appalachian State offensive guard 2004-07 On Thursday nights, we always had position-specific meals. At least the offensive line and tight ends did. I’m not going to name the restaurant, but it was a Brazilian steakhouse deal. We had the whole O-line there, all the tight ends there. It was a good stout number of guys. You had a green card and a red card. Green means “Bring me more meat.” We were thinking, Heck man, this is what we want right here. They had been open probably a week. They keep bringing this food out, and we were like, “More! More! Keep bringing us food.” They’re bringing out these big skewers, and we’re eating it all up. It kept coming out a little bit pinker each time. Then it got a point where it was bloody and cold. I was like, “Man, this is some of the worst meat.” But I had that macho I’m-a-lineman-I’m-going-to-eat-whatever thing. I asked the lady, and she said, “Oh yeah, it’s raw. But y’all kept eating it, so we kept bringing it out.” I was sitting there going, “Oh my God. No.” She said, “We couldn’t cook it as fast as y’all were eating it.”
Armanti Edwards, Appalachian State quarterback 2006-09, current Chicago Bears receiver That was my first time on a plane. When we went up, my stomach dropped. But I had to overcome my fears.
Moore On Thursday, we got rained out here [in Boone]. We didn’t have our typical Thursday practice. So when we got up there, I just let them walk around and look at the stadium and locker rooms. Then we started practice. With the intensity level of that Thursday practice—really it was a Friday practice now —you could tell not that we were going to win, but that we were going to be ready to play.
Jackson We went there and just looked around. Coach Moore told everybody to walk around and look at the stands, so that come tomorrow you won’t have to look up there anymore. At the end of the day, it’s 11-on-11.
Pierre Banks, Appalachian State linebacker 2005-08, current academic counselor for South Carolina’s football team I remember coming out of the locker room and seeing this little guy sitting on a little Gator [utility vehicle], just looking at us. I didn’t know who he was or who he was looking at. It was [Michigan tailback] Mike Hart. He was looking at me kind of screw-faced. Then, right before we left the field, one of our offensive linemen, John Holt, told us to look at the stands, look around, look at the seats. Then he told us, “That’s the last time you look around there. We’re going to play ball tomorrow.”
Kerry Brown It hit me after that little walkthrough practice. That food poisoning hit me, and it hit me hard. I lost like 15 pounds. … My roommate on the road was John Holt. He said the room stunk. I was asleep with my eyes open. It was creeping him out. He had to call people to come help me. My eyes were wide open, but I was asleep. That’s how sick I was. … I’m glad that food poisoning didn’t affect the whole offensive line the way it did just a handful of us. We probably wouldn’t have won that game. Everybody thinks we must have been so prepared mentally. Man, I was throwing up out of both ends before that game.
Banks This is no bull. We always did special teams the night before the game. [Defensive coordinator John] Wiley was behind me when we were watching their field goal unit. We see the wing man go straight out for the outside person and leave the second man free. At the same time, me and Coach Wiley said, “Oh, we can get that.”
John Holt, Appalachian State offensive guard 2003-07, current Western Carolina offensive line coach I wake up, and it’s probably 3:30 or 4:00 in the morning. I look over at Kerry, and Kerry’s just laying there with his eyes open. I was like, Oh my God. So I just got up and watched the sun rise. Then we went to beat Michigan.
Kerry Brown You walk in there the day before the game, and it doesn’t look like much. It’s an old stadium, and it doesn’t look that big. You walk in there on game day, and wow that place changes. It’s nothing but a sea of maize and blue. Wow, it’s a lot of people. Don’t stare in the stands too much. … But LSU [in 2005] kind of set us up for Michigan. Glenn Dorsey was young then. Jamarcus Russell was bigger than anybody on our defense. Even their punter was huge. They had a darn tiger out there. LSU kind of set us up. We were a young team in ’05, but we were basically the same team in ’07. It wasn’t our first rodeo going to Michigan.
Julian Rauch, Appalachian State kicker 2004-07, current kicker for the Pittsburgh Power of the Arena Football League Just get the first ball up in there. You don’t want to mis-hit that first ball. Just get that first kick up in the air, and the rest of the game is just reactions. It was the opening kickoff. I went in and helped make the tackle. I don’t remember if I was solo or not, but I remember I had my neck down. I ran off that field thinking, “Oh my God. I think I broke my neck.” … I’ve made some tackles throughout the career, but they were never pretty ones. This was by no means a pretty one or a form tackle.
Las Vegas sportsbooks didn’t even set an official line on the game, and within 150 seconds, it seemed obvious why. Michigan marched down the field, gaining 66 yards on six plays and capping the drive with a four-yard Hart touchdown run.
But Jackson and Edwards would strike back quickly, connecting on a 68-yard touchdown play. Suddenly, the matchup didn’t seem so lopsided.
Corey Lynch, Appalachian State safety, 2003-07 I said to the guys: “They’ve only got 11 on the field. We’ve got 11, too. And we know we’re good. I don’t know what the outcome of the game is going to be, but they can’t put any more out on the field than 11. And we can match up.” [After Hart’s touchdown,] you go, Aw, geez. Maybe we’re not as good as we think. Maybe this is real college football. These are guys with real talent. They have something that we don’t have. Then Dexter goes and scores on that long touchdown run, and we’re like, “You know what, these are just regular kids from regular towns that were recruited just like us to play football.”
Holt He took a slant and ran right down the middle of the field. Nobody could catch him. That put a little doubt in their minds. It was like “Hey, we ain’t got a cat that can do this. These boys came up here from some place in the mountains, and they’ve got something we ain’t got.”
Jackson We knew we wanted to spread them out. They had bigger bodies. They were more physical than us when it came to size. We knew we were fast. We ran a little delay slant. I caught it, and after that I knew I had to make a play. I knew it was pretty big right after I scored the first touchdown. [Receiver] Hans [Batichon] ran up to me and said, “Man, you just scored on Michigan.” Over time, I knew that everybody was going to settle down and get the jitters out.
Banks I remember [Michigan quarterback Chad Henne’s] cadence. I was thinking, “This guy’s pretty big.” When I hit him, boom, everything goes silent. I remember coming to the sideline and I did the Gladiator to the crowd. “Are you not entertained?” They were barking at me. They said, “But you can’t play offense.” Then we started scoring. I came back and the conversations started getting shorter and shorter.
Banks’ first-quarter sack ended one Michigan drive, but the Wolverines struck again when Henne hit Greg Matthews for a 10-yard touchdown. Appalachian State, though, would own the second quarter. Batichon would catch a nine-yard touchdown pass from Edwards. Then Jackson would score on a 20-yard catch that was memorialized on the cover of the following week’s sports illustrated. Edwards capped the onslaught by taking a quarterback draw up the middle and leaping over two defenders at the goal line. The Mountaineers went into the locker room at halftime up 28-17. In stadiums and living rooms across the country, the score looked like a misprint. Few could tune in, because it was the first game broadcast on the Big Ten Network. At its launch, BTN was fighting for carriage on cable services across the country. But as Moore addressed his team in the bowels of the Big House, every college football fan in America wished he had the fledging network.
Lynch We were up. We were doing very well. But this giant can come back swinging at any time. We were just trying to keep calm. Coach Moore was telling us this is a long game and we’re only halfway through. They’re going to come back out this halftime, and they’ll be a lot more ready. There were random cheers from the guys, maybe some of the freshmen. We were like, “Guys, this is nothing. We’ve got 30 more minutes of hard football. Just because you’re up a few points doesn’t mean anything against Michigan.”
Banks You could tell the difference in the way they fired off the ball, in the way they hit you. But by that point, it was too late. We already knew what time it was. They were bigger than us, but we were faster than them.
The Wolverines struck back hard. Even with Hart hobbled by a bruised hip for most of the third quarter, they clawed their way back into the game. Linebacker Shawn Crable made Edwards cough up a third-quarter fumble that the Wolverines recovered on the Appalachian State 31-yard line. Moments later, Hart scored on a four-yard run. Then, with 4:36 remaining in the game, Hart broke free for a 54-yard touchdown run that gave Michigan a 32-31 lead.
Edwards I had hurt my shoulder in camp. I didn’t practice the last couple of days leading up to that game. On the sack I fumbled on, that’s when I reinjured it. It was nothing but adrenaline rushing. I didn’t feel it at all.
Holt Armanti hurt was better than a lot of guys full-speed. Armanti’s a freak, now. He could do things in FCS football that I had never seen done before or after. I’m not saying he’s the best player ever, but he had tools that other guys didn’t have at quarterback. … When he was on the field, I felt like we had 12 guys starting on offense, because he was worth two.
Spier Jake Long was as good as advertised.
Steve Brown, Appalachian State radio analyst, former Mountaineers quarterback Mike Hart played about half the snaps. He was the difference-maker. If he plays the whole game, we still might win, but it was a different ball game when he was not in there.
Holt We were used to getting people’s best shot. People wanted to knock us off. Here we were going to get Michigan’s best shot in the second half. And I really believe we did, because Michigan played a great second half. I don’t think anybody thought we’d lost that game.
Steve Brown David Jackson does the play-by-play on the radio. He’s so good at what he does. I’ve never seen him nervous before. I looked at him with five minutes to go. We were on a break. He said, “Man, I’m shaking.” We were both so nervous for the kids. They had played their butts off. Somebody cut in from the studio and said ESPN wants to do a bunch of live cut-ins. I said “Oh boy. An old redneck from Goldsboro is going to be on the ESPN cut-ins. This isn’t good.”
After Hart’s final touchdown, Edwards threw an interception. The Mountaineers looked spent. But Appalachian State receiver Brian Quick, who had dropped a sure touchdown pass in the third quarter, got a measure of redemption by leaping to block Jason Gingell’s 43-yard field goal attempt. The Mountaineers got the ball back on the Michigan 26-yard line with 1:37 remaining. Edwards took them to the Michigan seven-yard line, but on first-and-goal, with the clock ticking and no timeouts remaining, Moore made an unconventional choice.
Lynch I didn’t know what to think. We [went for] the field goal on first down. I was like “Why don’t we run out the clock more?” But that was the destiny. That was supposed to happen.
Rauch I had missed a 46-yarder off the upright late in the third quarter. That really stuck with me the rest of the game. I was really upset about that. Missing a kick like that can always change the momentum of the game. That’s when they started making their run. We were able to hang on long enough to get me another opportunity. I was just itching to get back out there and do something.
Moore That was just to guard against a bad snap. If we’d had a bad snap, we could have just fallen on the ball and still not been out of field goal range. That was the only justification for that.
Holt Michigan was playing, and we had to play. We knew we had to finish that ballgame. Driving down and getting that field goal, we thought we should have scored a touchdown.
Rauch’s 24-yard field goal gave Appalachian State a 34-32 lead with 26 seconds remaining, but Michigan needed only 20 seconds to set up a field goal attempt of its own. Henne hit Mario Manningham for a 46-yard gain, allowing Gingell to set up for a 37-yarder to win the game. The Mountaineers had just blocked a kick, but they had yet to exploit the protection flaw Banks noticed the night before.
Steve Brown Why are we not double-teaming the outside receivers? They’re going to throw an alley-oop up to somebody. Sure enough, Manningham gets behind Justin Woazeah. If Henne doesn’t underthrow it, it’s a touchdown. Henne underthrows him a little bit, and Manningham comes back and makes a good play on the ball.
Lynch We were deflated. Man, we did all this work, and they’re going to kick a silly little field goal to win.
Rauch Coach Moore put an emphasis on blocking my kicks every day [in practice]. JeromeTouchstone and Corey Lynch would come in there 1,000 mph trying to block every kick. … If we were off a hair, they would get it.
Moore I’ll bet you Corey Lynch blocked 20 kicks during two-a-days.
Holt A lot of people don’t know, but he probably blocked 300 in his career in practice. Practice makes permanent. He’d rushed that gap 3,000 times in his career at practice.
Lynch The previous year, we were playing Furman, and they came and did the same thing. I ended up blocking one. It was pretty much déjà vu at Michigan. They were wide like Furman was the previous year. We just thought we could get through that gap.
Kerry Brown I was praying on the sideline with [noted evangelist] R.V. Brown. I wasn’t praying to win. I was more or less giving thanks. “This has been one a heck of game. Thank you. If it ends this way, it ends this way.” I don’t try to ask too much.
Lynch I actually almost overran the ball. I had to slow up a little. I remember it hit me in the chest and bounced a couple of times. I picked it up with one hand, and I was off to the races. It was like déjà vu. It was like I was a robot who was trained to do that. You think blocking field goals in practice isn’t that big of a deal. It was a pretty big deal.
Kerry Brown My first thought was “Corey, fall down.” My second thought was he’s going to drop it, someone’s going to pick it up and it’s going to be the craziest football game because they’re going to run it back for a touchdown.
Jackson Corey said he got tired and said he cramped or something. But he got caught by the kicker.
Lynch Everyone always talks about that. I just laugh. I didn’t have anything left in the tank. There was nothing. My legs were cramped up. My abs were cramped. Everything was cramped. I’ve never been to that physical exhaustion point. You know how you can run a horse so hard that his heart explodes? It was almost like that feeling.
Edwards To this day, I haven’t given him crap for that. He basically saved us. We’ll never know if that field goal was going in.
Kerry Brown I realize poor Corey probably can’t breathe under this dogpile, because I’m having a hard time breathing. So we started pulling people off.
Lynch I thought I might die there. From the cramping to the complete exhaustion, I was all the way gone. Then I had 10,000 pounds on top of me. It was a pretty traumatic experience, but I wouldn’t change it.
Steve Brown David Jackson has got to be commended. I’m screaming like an idiot. “Yard sale at the Big House!” David is just keeping his cool doing it like he does every Saturday.
Rauch Corey stole my thunder with the block. Everybody forgets about the kick.
By that night, everyone who loves college football had seen Lynch’s block and heard Brown screaming about the yard sale at the Big House. The Mountaineers didn’t realize it yet, but they had made history.
Banks Reporters were coming up to me and I was yelling all kinds of stuff. Later, I found out that these are things that they were printing in their publications. I was saying we needed to represent the Big Ten in the Rose Bowl. A reporter asked me, “How do you explain what just happened?” I said, “Well, the sun shines on a dog’s ass some days.” And he printed that. But that’s the only way I could explain it.
Lynch I laid on the field for 15 or 20 minutes. I just sat there. I really couldn’t get up. There were still people there. They were like zombies. They didn’t know what to do. It was incredible. Some of the people weren’t even leaving the stadium. They didn’t know where to go or what to do next.
Jackson When I got back to the locker room, I had to check my phone. I had over 100 messages.
Steve Brown I can remember on the bus ride back to the plane thinking, number one, Did we just beat Michigan? Number two, was I screaming “Yard sale at the Big House?” We get on the plane, and [engineer] Tim Sparks goes, “I saved your ass.” I said “What?” He said, “I cut your mic off when you started doing Ric Flair.” You know how he goes “Woooooooo?” I did it like three times.
Rauch When we got back to Boone, we couldn’t get off the bus. People were shaking the bus. There was a flood of people. From the bus to the field house was probably 100 feet. It probably took 20 or 30 minutes to get there just because of the crowd. Then you realize, wait a minute, we really did something big.
Moore This shows you the class of Michigan and Lloyd Carr. About three o’clock on Sunday, we were in a staff meeting. One of the grad assistants answered because there were no secretaries there on Sunday. He said, “Coach, coach Carr is calling you.” I wish I’d have put it on speakerphone, but I was just telling them what he was saying to me. He congratulated us on the game. They were just class. Pure class.”
Holt ESPN, sports illustrated, Fox Sports and every local station within 300 miles showed up to our stadium that Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. We weren’t used to that kind of media coverage. We had played for and won national championships and gotten media attention, but that was huge. I was like “What are these guys doing?” And we had to go play Lenoir-Rhyne.”
Jackson It was an honor to be on the cover [of SI]. Coach [Lonnie] Galloway called me up when I was lifting weights with coach Dillman about a week after the game. He was like “I’ve got a surprise to show you.” He always brought candy for us, so I’m thinking he’s going to give me some candy. He shows me the cover, and he says “That’s you.” I was like “No way.”
Spier “We’re probably the only the only school in history that ever won a national championship and put somebody else’s stadium on their ring. We’ve got the Big House on it. That’s what our seniors wanted.”
Mullen It scares you. You’d better be prepared every single game. After Michigan beat us in the bowl game that year, I said, “Thank goodness we didn’t play Appalachian State.”
Banks After a few hours, I believed it. But I couldn’t really enjoy it because our coaches did a good job of making sure we were never content with where we were. I didn’t start enjoying what we did until I worked at Ohio State. When I first got there in 2011, I didn’t have cable. So I [watched video of] some of our games. We were pretty good. They loved me at Ohio State. I think that’s how I got the job. Everybody I met on my interview asked me about that game.
Holt We had to focus on the next opponent and then the next opponent. We never really realized until a few years later how big that was. I’m here at Western Carolina, and we’re going to play Alabama the last game of the season. Now, I really I understand how huge it is for an FCS opponent to go play a top five opponent and win.
Steve Brown What did it do for us? The applications went way up. It helped that school grow a bunch and helped people find out where Boone was. I sell heavy equipment for a living. One of my customer’s wives went to dinner about two weeks ago up in Boone. She asked the waitress how she ended up going to school up here. The waitress said “Well, my dad and I were watching Appalachian beat Michigan…” So there you go. You’ve got one more student up there from that.
Edwards No exaggeration, it comes up at least once a week. Once I tell them my name, they ask if I was there when we beat Michigan. Then it goes on from there.
Rauch It usually comes up first thing. I probably get three or four comments a week. Somebody will introduce me and mention I played for Appalachian, and the person will ask, “Were you there when they beat Michigan?”
Lynch Almost every day. “Aren’t you that guy that blocked the kick?”
Moore That ballgame right there, they’ll tell their grandchildren. And it’ll be even better. It was just a great moment in college football history.
Lynch It’s like a nightmare that never ends for [Michigan]. But I guess it’s a pretty good dream for us.