By David Coulson
College Sports Journal
BOONE, N.C. — Someone had to win and someone had to lose when Appalachian State hosted Montana Saturday evening before 30,856 fans at Kidd Brewer Stadium — the third-largest crowd ever to see a game at this storied venue.
And No. 5-ranked Appalachian State made just enough big plays, while No. 15 Montana made just enough mistakes to result in a 35-27 Mountaineer victory — the first for ASU in three tries against the Grizzlies.
But the real winners were every fan, player, coach, administrator, student, or support person at all 124 Football Championship Subdivision schools.
Appalachian State and Montana, both 1-1, showed all that is positive and special about FCS in a single three-hour and 11-minute game, just as these two worthy foes have displayed in two other classic contests.
"Everybody realizes that is a great win for our school," ASU coach Jerry Moore said. "We've had some great ballgames with Montana. We played really well, we made some great strides from last week, we knew it was going to be a very physical game."
After a frenetic 21-21 tie in the first half, the two heavyweight contenders of FCS settled into a defensive struggle in a scoreless third period before Appalachian State unleashed enough of a barrage in the fourth quarter to emerge with a hard-fought, eight-point victory.
"I’m really proud of our guys," said Montana coach Mick Delaney. "They fought hard like I knew they would, they played hard like I knew they would. We made too many mistakes."
Andrew Peacock skirted along the Montana sideline and hauled in a 25-yard strike from quarterback Jamal Jackson (24-of-34 for 260 yards and two TDs passing, 16 carries for 65 yards and a TD rushing), two minutes into the final stanza, to lift the Mountaineers to their final lead.
Montana rallied for what looked like an equalizing score when running back Dan Moore turned a simple screen pass from quarterback Trent McKinney into an 87-yard touchdown with 8:54 remaining.
But Chris Lider pushed his extra point low and wide to the right and Appalachian State remained in front, 28-27.
From that point on, the Mountaineers took control and closed out an impressive win.
ASU drove the ball from its own 22, taking 11 plays to march the ball into the end zone against a tiring Montana defense.
On a third and 16 from the Montana 46, Jackson drilled a pass to freshman Malachi Jones on a perfectly executed comeback route for 17 yards to the Griz 29.
Steven Miller (27 carries, 91 yards, two TDs) took things over from there, rushing four times on zone read plays, the final time from two yards out for a touchdown that gave Appalachian State an eight-point advantage with 5:05 remaining.
"This was a perfect atmosphere, it was like revenge," said Miller. "We wanted to beat these guys for what they did to us in 2009 and 2000."
ASU took advantage of interceptions from Patrick Blalock and the second pick of the game by Demetrius McCray to stop Montana's final two drives.
McCray intercepted his second pass at the goal line with 18 seconds left on McKinney's pass from the ASU 42.
"The whole time the ball was in the air, I told myself the ball was mine," said McCray. "I was going to seal the game."
After Montana scored off its first possession when a third-down pass from McKinney to Sam Gratton went for 68 to set up Gavin Hagfors' two-yard TD catch, Appalachian State struck for 21 straight points.
Jackson fired a scoring strike of 31 yards to Sean Price (eight catches for 103 yards), Miller bounced in from 13 yards out and Jackson tumbled into the end zone from the five to make it 21-7.
The final two touchdowns of the quarter followed Montana turnovers.
A big, blindside hit by Henry Barnes forced a fumble on a kickoff by Grizzly Chase Naccarato that walk-on senior Matt Watson recovered at the Montana 21.
Then McCray ended a Grizzly drive at the ASU 40 when there was miscommunication between McKinney and receiver Ellis Henderson when both were reading ASU's pass coverage.
But Montana rallied to tie in the second quarter as Dan Moore raced 38 yards when the Grizzlies caught the Mountaineer defense in a blitz to set up McKinney's 10-yard scoring scamper and Moore's running keyed a late drive that ended with McKinney's seven-yard TD aerial to Gratton.
Dan Moore turned in an awesome performance in defeat, rushing 15 times for 93 yards and catching three passes for 145 yards and that incredible touchdown.
The second half emphasized other strengths of the two teams as the defenses made adjustments to slow down attacks that had accounted for a combined 486 yards in the initial 30 minutes.
Two of the defensive leaders for Appalachian State were linebackers Jeremy Kimbrough (14 tackles, seven solo stops and one tackle for four yards of loss) and Brandon Grier (13 tackles, five solo stops, two sacks, three tackles for 12 yards of loss).
Safety Matt Hermanson had a team-leading 12 tackles for Montana, while linebacker John Kanongata'a added 10, with one tackle for loss.
The result of this game left everyone wanting more and looking forward to the next game in the series, either in 2013 in Missoula, MT., or later this season with a rematch in the FCS playoffs.
"I hope we get to see this team again in the playoffs," said Delaney.
Delaney isn't the only one that thinks ASU and Montana might meet again this season.
"I expect to see them in the playoffs," said Jackson. "It wouldn't surprise me."