As August comes to an end and September rears its head, football fanatics begin to get themselves into a boil over the upcoming season. This is true for fans of the National Football League, but it’s especially true for the folks who love college football as well. The first full weekend of the collegiate season is generally a warm-up weekend with many of the big, established schools taking on smaller institutions. The inevitable blowouts abound!
Why would these small schools ever agree to get themselves shellacked by the ‘power conference’ colleges? Well, the upstart universities will often get a decent payout to play in the game. That money can be used to finance a lot of their other sports or to build facilities on their various campuses. But, especially as time passes, questions arise about sportsmanship and the benefit to the big teams to win games by 60 or 70 points, as often happens in games like these.
One can always point to the gambling side of the equation and, as we all know, there are people who will bet on anything.
So, the chances of an esoteric football masterpiece occurring in the first weekend of the college season are quite rare. But, whenever people begin complaining about the quality of these games that are generally played before Labour Day, my mind always goes back to one match that was supposed to be a demolition, but ended up being anything but that!
Going back to 2007, the first day of September was also the first full Saturday of the college football season. In Ann Arbor, Michigan, the home Wolverines were expected to be a strong squad heading into their first game. In both the Associated Press Poll and the Coaches’ Poll, the University of Michigan was ranked at No. 5 in the country. They were being projected as the de facto best team in the Big Ten Conference as well.
Three of their seniors, two-time consensus All-American and Outland Trophy nominee, offensive left tackle Jake Long, running back Mike Hart (who, as of this writing, still holds the school record for career rushing yards) and Quarterback Chad Henne, all opted not to declare eligibility for the NFL draft in order to play one more year with the Wolverines. Coach Lloyd Carr had the opportunity to retire, but with his big three coming back, and receivers Mario Manningham and Adrian Arrington in the fold, Carr elected to stick around for another season as well.
ESPN’s Mark Schlabach declared that the group “gives Michigan what could potentially be one of the most explosive offenses in college football.”
Michigan’s defense was the best group in the entire Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) against the run in 2006. But the group that played together that year was vastly different from the one that the Wolverines would have for the 2007 campaign. Gone were four All-Americans – defensive back Leon Hall and defensive linemen Alan Branch, David Harris and LaMarr Woodley – and seven starters in total. Each of Hall, Branch, Harris and Woodley had been selected in the first two rounds of the 2007 NFL draft.
In this new season, Michigan’s defense was going to be built on speed, at least according to linebacker Chris Graham. “All the positions, you have speed. It’s loaded in speed. You want to use it a lot," Graham told Tim Heuser of the Ann Arbor News. Defensive end Tim Jamison told Heuser that the team had “huge goals” for 2007. Heuser speculated that Jamison was talking about a Big Ten championship and a national title, but he couldn’t get the player to be specific about those goals.
Jamison did acknowledge though that the loss of those seven starters could be a concern, but he preferred to remain optimistic about the upcoming season. “When you lose a lot of players, of course people are going to break out doubts about next year’s team. We’re excited. I’m confident about my defense this season.”
In their opener, the Wolverines would be facing a school they had never played before. Their opponents on that first Saturday of the 2007 football season would be the Appalachian State Mountaineers. The Mountaineers were the two-time defending champions of the Division I Football Championship Subdivision (FCS). The FCS had previously been called Division I-AA.
Teams from Division I-AA, or the FCS, were not supposed to be any kind of challenge for FBS schools – especially a school that was ranked in the top five of all the teams in the nation. Certainly, Michigan went into this game highly favoured by the bookmakers. In fact, they were so highly favoured that Vegas wouldn’t even put out a betting line on this contest.
But the speed that Graham alluded to might be an element that the Wolverines would need. The Mountaineers had a one-two punch of quarterback Armanti Edwards and running back Kevin Richardson. Richardson ran for 1,676 yards in 2006. Edwards was only the fifth college football quarterback ever to throw for 2,000 yards and rush for 1,000 in the same season. Edwards scampered for 1,153 yards while throwing for 2,251 in 2006.
(If you are a Canadian Football League fan, you’ll remember that Edwards played in Toronto with the Argonauts and was a receiver on the team that won the Grey Cup in 2017. But, more about that later.)
Michigan coach Lloyd Carr told Heuser that people shouldn’t sleep on Appalachian State. “They’re a team with outstanding team speed, particularly at the skill positions. Obviously, Edwards is an exciting athlete and quarterback. From the reports I’ve read, he’s improved dramatically in terms of the passing game.” Now, for the denizens of Michigan, they may have taken Carr’s words with a grain of salt, figuring that he was just showing respect to an opponent that ‘our team’ was going to simply destroy.
There was a bit of pressure on Michigan that they would have to live up to and answer to in this coming season. In 2006, Ohio State had been the preseason favourite to win the Big Ten. Not only did they win the conference, but they held the No. 1 spot in the country until they ran into the No. 2 Florida Gators in the national championship game. Florida, coached by Urban Meyer, knocked the Buckeyes off their throne in a 41-14 win in that title game.
In a preseason preview in The Times of Munster, Indiana, Ken Karrson made note of Michigan’s excellent offense, but also discussed the fact that their defense had lost so many of their starters. However, Karrson also mentioned that “with the personnel losses suffered by their arch-rival Ohio State, the Wolverines would appear to be the cream of this year’s Big Ten crop.”
In the Tampa Bay Times, a massive section of their newspaper was devoted to the upcoming 2007 college football season. One little feature was headlined ‘Five Games to Watch’ and it featured a game between the 2006 Big Ten champs and the expected 2007 title holders that would be coming up on November 17. The Times piece did say that this game could be on the list every year. But it also pointed out that this game could determine which team could be vying for a national championship.
This was the hype train that the Wolverines were potentially riding.
As kickoff approached on the morning of September 1, 2007, the sun shone brightly over Ann Arbor. Michigan Stadium (or ‘The Big House’ as it was coined by the legend himself, Keith Jackson) was empty, save for a few peoplewho had to be there early for whatever reason. The tailgaters were assembling and partying, likely assumptively expecting what would be a systematic dismantling of the tiny school from the town named after Daniel Boone that was coming up by bus from the mountains of North Carolina.
By gametime, more than 109,000 people had crammed themselves into the stadium. Michigan got the ball to open the game and, in five plays, had the ball on the Appalachian State four-yard-line. Mike Hart then took the ball into the end zone to give the home side a 7-0 lead. It was that quick. It was that easy. All was right with the world, at least, as far as many in ‘The Big House’ were concerned.
But, on their ensuing possession, the Mountaineers ran the kickoff out to their own 26-yard line. After a rush for no gain and a six-yard pass completion, Armanti Edwards connected on a 68-yard touchdown pass-and-run to Dexter Jackson. It was all tied up. The Wolverines had punched their opponents in the face and the visitors counter-punched with a strike of their own!
After each team went three and out, Henne engineered a ten-play drive that culminated in a short scoring pass to Greg Matthews. The first quarter ended with Michigan leading by a score of 14-7. But Appalachian State was driving as that opening frame ended. To begin the second quarter, they finished off a 15-play sequence that ended up with a nine-yard Edwards pass to the seldom-targeted Hans Batichon. Once again, the game was tied, this time, at 14-14.
The Mountaineer defense forced a Michigan three and out and then returned the punt to the Wolverines 37. Five plays later, Edwards found Jackson crossing the field. Jackson found the end zone on a 20-yard touchdown pass and the visitors had stunned the massive Big House throng on this sunny Saturday. The score was 21-14 in favour of the underdogs.
On the kickoff, Michigan returner Johnny Sears appeared to fumble and lose the ball. Appalachian State recovered. But on a video review, it was ruled that the ground had caused the fumble. On their ensuing possession, the Wolverines moved the ball down to the App State 35. On fourth down, Michigan gambled, but the Mountaineer defense held and took the ball over there. Nine running plays later, Edwards was in the end zone after a six-yard run and the little school led the big one 28-14. A Michigan field goal by Jason Gingell, just before the half, made it 28-17 at the intermission.
As the second quarter was coming to an end, many in the crowd were booing the Wolverines and as Thom Brennaman said on the BigTen Network broadcast, “Appalachian State came to Ann Arbor to play a little football!”
We’ll never know what Lloyd Carr said to his players in the room at halftime. In fact, Carr was so perturbed with the way his team performed in that first half that he refused to talk to sideline reporter Charissa Thompson for the game telecast. One thing is sure, whatever he said to his team may have peeled the paint off the walls.
Appalachian State opened the second half with the ball. On their second play from scrimmage, Michigan’s Morgan Trent picked off an Edwards pass. The Wolverines moved the ball to the Mountaineers’ 26 and Gingell booted another field goal to reduce their deficit to eight points at 28-20. But App State got that back after an 11-play, 64-yard advance resulted in a 31-yard Julian Rauch field goal to restore their eleven-point lead at 31-20.
When Michigan got the ball back, they ran four plays. On the fifth, running back Brandon Minor fumbled and the Mountaineers recovered on the Wolverines’ 29. Eventually, they had to settle for a field goal attempt. But Rauch’s 43-yard kick hit the goal post. Their lead was stuck at eleven. The home team was unable to move it the next time they had the ball and had to punt it.
On the ensuing possession, Edwards fumbled the ball. It was recovered by Michigan’s John Thompson at the Appalachian State 31-yard line. It took them six plays, but before the end of the third quarter, Hart scored his second touchdown of the game. Hart had sat down for a good chunk of the first half and much of the third quarter. Minor had carried much of the burden at the running back spot up until this possession.
Following Hart’s score, Carr made the decision to try for a two-point conversion to get his team to within a field goal. But Henne fumbled the snap and the attempt for two failed. It was now 31-26 for the visitors as the third frame ended. Edwards was unable to get the ball moving as the fourth quarter began and the Mountaineers were forced to punt.
Johnny Sears was the Michigan returner. He carried the ball to the Appalachian State 49. But a face masking penalty moved the ball to the 34-yard line. Michigan was now in a position to threaten, but Henne was pursued out of the pocket to his right. He tried to throw across his body and it was picked off by the Mountaineers’ defensive back Leonard Love. There were about twelve and a half minutes remaining in the game.
At this point, game analyst Charles Davis thought that Appalachian State was becoming a little tentative on offense. Edwards didn’t look like he was able to free-wheel the way he had been earlier in the game and especially in the first half. They went three downs and had to punt after the Love interception. 11:31 was left on the clock now. Michigan had the ball on their own 24.
For the Wolverines, it was time to get to work.
Henne began handing the ball off to his running backs. Hart and Minor alternated back and forth in carrying the ball. With 9:45 left, they got into Mountaineer territory. Henne began to open things up, completing a pass inside the App State 40. They got to the 33 before the drive stalled. Call elected to go for it on fourth down. Henne’s pass attempt failed and was incomplete. The scoreboard clock now read 6:55.
Edwards completed a short pass, then was sacked. On third down, he was sacked again. Michigan would get the ball back. Mountaineers’ punter Neil Young booted the ball. Johnny Sears called for a fair catch at the Wolverines’ 46. That was where they would start their next possession. Less than five minutes remained now. It was still 31-26 in favour of the visitors.
On first down, Henne gave the ball to Hart. Hart found a hole on the left side of the line and he got into the defensive backfield. Hart eluded opponents and broke tackles. He zigged and he zagged back across the field, outracing defenders to the far right where the goal line met the orange marker. Michigan miraculously had the lead at 32-31. The play took all of fifteen seconds. Carr directed his team to go for two points once again. Once again, the attempt failed.
Appalachian State got the ball back with 4:31 left. On first down, Edwards tried to hit his receiver but missed his target and the pass was intercepted by Brandent Engelmon. The crowd at the Big House was delirious! Michigan had the ball on the Mountaineers’ 43-yard line. They eventually moved the ball to the 26. Gingell was called upon to make a 43-yard field goal. It was blocked. The little school had one more chance. They took over the ball with 74 yards to paydirt. The game had 1:37 left in it.
Three plays later, they had moved the ball to the Michigan 40-yard line. An Edwards pass to Coco Hillary with 30 seconds left got the ball down to the 5. Rauch came out for the field goal try from 24 yards away. It was good. David had Goliath on the ropes. They led the game now 34-32. There were still 26 seconds left on the clock. What could Henne and the Wolverines do here?
The kickoff was returned to the Michigan 34. Henne’s first pass was incomplete. 15 seconds remained. It was second down.
Henne was down to his last bullet. He fired a Hail Mary ball to Mario Manningham inside the Appalachian State 20-yard line. It was complete! Six seconds were still on the clock. Gingell was summoned to make a 37-yard field goal. The ball was snapped. It was placed. Gingell kicked it. But the Mountaineers’ Corey Lynch got an arm on the kick and blocked it. The ball bounced right up to him and he had a lot of green in front of him. He ran it deep into Michigan territory until he was tackled.
There were now only zeroes on the clock. The game was over.
Thom Brennaman summed it up this way, screaming into the microphone on his headset as Lynch was running down the field and time was running out, “Appalachian State has stunned the college football world! One of the greatest upsets in sports history!”
Indeed it was. Goliath was done.
Immediately following the game, Charissa Thompson caught up with Appalachian State’s coach, Jerry Moore. He tried to keep a lid on his excitement as he talked about what his team had just achieved, but he was having a bit of a difficult time. “We’ve got a great bunch of young players. They’re hard workers. They’re committed to our school and our program. This is a crowning achievement for them right here.”
“It won’t be more important than our last two national championships, but it’s right up there – really close. It just shows you, we’ve got good football in I-AA football – or what used to be I-AA football. We’re proud of our football team and we just beat a good Michigan football team right here on this field. That’s what is so remarkable about this!”
As Moore was talking to Thompson, cameras were panning through the crowd. App State fans were joyous. Michigan fans were having trouble digesting what they had just seen. Many were just standing silently, mouths agape and their hands on each cheek as they stared blankly toward the field. Lloyd Carr was understandably disconsolate. “We were not a well-prepared football team. That’s my job and I take full responsibility.”
Mike Hart was at least charitable in his post-game remarks. “It is one of the biggest losses ever, but give all credit to Appalachian State.”
Rauch told reporters that he had thought about his game-winning moment for a long time. “I’ve been dreaming about that kick every day!”
Over in Columbus, Ohio, reaction to what happened in Ann Arbor was sparking a lot of talk. While Michigan was losing to Appalachian State, Ohio State was dumping Youngstown State 38-6. Buckeyes’ safety Anderson Russell was in the post-game media room as the final seconds ticked down at the Big House.
“They really have a good team,” Russell told members of the media about the Mountaineers. “We saw film of them when we were watching Youngstown State and they blew Youngstown out, so we knew they were a legitimate opponent. But I was shocked like everybody else.”
Buckeyes’ running back Chris ‘Beanie’ Wells said, “I was so shocked. You never think a I-AA school can beat a I-A, but they did it. They can play with the best. I-AA doesn’t mean anything but the amount of scholarships you have to give.” At the time, Division I-A schools could offer 85 scholarships while Division I-AA schools could offer just 63. Wells continued, “All those guys (Henne, Hart and Long) came back to Michigan to win a national championship. To lose the game is crazy!”
Buckeyes’ coach Jim Tressel was the coach at Youngstown State before moving up to Ohio State. He talked about the two levels of football. “I think the reality of I-AA in this day and age is that all the good I-AA teams have a significant number of transfers that have played at this level previously. I thought they (Appalachian State) had a good team from watching them on film. You don’t get to the Final Four in the playoffs unless you’re good.”
For the Mountaineers, this was a great start to another successful season. They went through their regular season with a record of 9-2. In the FCS playoff, they defeated James Madison University, Eastern Washington University and the University of Richmond to get to the title game. Their opponent in the championship final would be the University of Delaware Fightin’ Blue Hens. UD had to defeat Delaware State, the University of Northern Iowa and Southern Illinois University – Carbondale.
The Mountaineers trounced Delaware 49-21for their third consecutive FCS championship. Jerry Moore was the coach for all three of the Mountaineers’ titles. He coached at Appalachian State until 2012. That would be his last coaching assignment. In 2014, Moore was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
Armanti Edwards had what can only be termed a successful career at Appalachian State. He won two national championships as the quarterback there. Also, he became the first signal caller in NCAA Division I history to throw for more than 10,000 yards and run for 4,000. He was also the first back-to-back and first two-time winner of the Walter Payton Award, given to the most outstanding offensive player in Division I-AA football.
As a quarterback, he was small for the pro game. He played at 5’11” and 187 pounds when he was drafted by Carolina in the third round in 2010. He was with the team for parts of four seasons but didn’t get to play much as a quarterback, except at times in the wildcat formation. He also returned kickoffs and played wide receiver in his time there. He was released by the Panthers in October of 2013.
He was then picked up by the Cleveland Browns later that month. On November 20, he was placed on injured reserve. Right before Christmas, he was released by the Browns with an injury settlement. In the summer of 2014, he signed with the Chicago Bears but was let go by the team in the final cuts at the end of August.
In February of 2016, he signed with the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Canadian Football League. Before the 2017 season started, he was traded to the Toronto Argonauts and had his best season as a professional. He caught 83 passes for 962 yards and caught seven passes in the playoffs. He and S.J. Green were integral players on the Argos’ team that won the Grey Cup in 2017. He played in Toronto until the end of 2019 season.
In 2020, he joined the Dallas Renegades of the XFL before heading back to the CFL with the Edmonton Elks.
In a September 2, 2007 Associated Press story, reporter Larry Lage talked about Michigan coach Lloyd Carr. Carr had the opportunity to retire after the 2006 season, but after they lost their final game of that year to Ohio State, he, Henne, Hart and Long all decided to come back to complete some unfinished business and try to win a Big Ten Conference title and possibly a national championship.
The loss to Appalachian State threw a massive wrench into that quest. Lage compared the loss to a game at the beginning of 1992 season in which The Citadel defeated Arkansas. Immediately following that game, Razorbacks’ coach Jack Crowe was shown the door. Lage said in his piece that Carr would not be fired after the loss to the Mountaineers. And he wasn’t.
But at the end of the 2007 season, Carr decided to retire. The Wolverines finished with a 9-4 recordand defeated the 2006 NCAA champion Florida Gators in the Capital One Bowl. Carr had been the Michigan coach since 1995 and he accumulated a record of 122-40 over those thirteen seasons. In his time there, his teams went 5-4 against Notre Dame, 10-3 over Michigan State, 6-7 versus Ohio State and 9-2 when playing Penn State.
Though Michigan started the season ranked No. 5, they finished the season at No. 18 in the Associated Press Poll.
Chad Henne finished his college career with 32 victories in regular season play. He was selected in the second round of the 2008 NFL Draft by the Miami Dolphins and he spent four years with that team. He started his Dolphins’ career as the backup quarterback behind Chad Pennington. He had some good and even great moments with Miami, but after his fourth season there, he was not re-signed.
In March of 2012, Henne signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Again, he showed some moments of fleeting success, but he spent most of his time there as a backup to Blake Bortles. In his final four seasons as a pro, he served as the backup to Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City. While with the Chiefs, he won rings in Super Bowls LIV and LVII.
Mike Hart was the most productive running back in Michigan Wolverines’ history. His 5,040 yards in four years are more than any rusher the school has ever had. Hart was picked in the sixth round of the 2008 NFL Draft by the Indianapolis Colts. He played three seasons in Indianapolis, mostly as a backup player. He is currently the running backs coach for his alma mater, the University of Michigan.
Jake Long’s excellence followed him when he became a professional. In 2008, he was taken first overall in the NFL Draft by the Miami Dolphins and he and Chad Henne were teammates during their time there. He became the highest paid offensive lineman in the league when he signed with the Dolphins. In 2008, he was named to the Pro Football Writers Association’s All-Rookie Team. In each of his first four seasons, he was named to the Pro Bowl. He was a second-team All-Pro in 2009 and in 2010, he was a first-team All-Pro.
After the 2012 season, Long became a free agent and he signed a four-year, $36 million contract with the St. Louis Rams. In December of 2013, in a game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament, and he missed the last game of the season. The following year, in October of 2014, he sustained another torn ACL. The injuries greatly affected his playing ability and before the 2015 season, he was released by the Rams.
In September of 2015, he signed a one-year contract with the Atlanta Falcons. He played a total of eleven snaps that season. In October of 2016, Long signed with the Minnesota Vikings. He tore his Achilles tendon in Week 10 against the Washington Redskins and in mid-November was placed on injured reserve. In April of 2017, he retired from the game.
There will always be people out there who will question the wisdom of watching college football games in the first weekend of the schedule. If anyone ever asks you why they should watch any of the games, especially the ones that appear to be mismatches, you can point to the game in Ann Arbor, Michigan that was played on September 1, 2007. It’s what makes sports the best reality television there is. On any given day, the possibility exists that we might see something that we’ve never seen before. We may see history made.
As some random announcer said on a television that Jerry Seinfeld was watching after he successfully avoided having dinner with J. Peterman, “You’ve gotta love sports!”
Get Howie’s great book Crazy Days & Wild Nights on Amazon. 19 different, outlandish stories taken from the pages of sports history! It makes a great addition to your fall reading list!
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