By David Coulson
College Sports Journal
Editor's Note: On Saturday, Appalachian State and Furman resume one of the most competitive rivalries in the Football Championship Subdivision, with ASU attempting to win a share of the Southern Conference title and the league's automatic bid to the playoffs at Kidd Brewer Stadium. In a series filled with wacky finishes, the game from 10 years ago on Oct. 12, 2002 provided one of the wildest endings in college football history.
BOONE, N.C — Cornerback Derrick Black had already established himself as Appalachian State's resident miracle worker and All-American defensive end Josh Jeffries has saved the Mountaineers many times with big plays.
But nothing either of the them has done could compare to their game-winning effort as No. 4 ASU stunned No. 5 Furman 16-15 on arguably one of the most bizarre finishes in college football history before a crowd of 14,311 fans at Kidd Brewer Stadium and a regional television audience.
Just call it the Miracle on the Mountain.
Billy Napier's 12-yard touchdown pass to Bear Rinehart with seven seconds remaining gave the Paladins a 15-14 lead, but Jeffries intercepted a Napier bubble screen pass on the two-point conversion.
Jeffries tossed the ball back to Black at the 16 and Black scampered 84 yards for the defensive two-pointer that lifted the Mountaineers (5-1, 3-0) from defeat to victory in a battle for first place in Southern Conference football.
Napier was attempting to pass to Brian Bratton, but Jeffries dropped into coverage and stepped in front of the wide receiver. Linebacker Sam Smalls took out Bratton at the five and Jeffries was off to the races with Black trailing.
Jeffries pitched the ball to Black at the 16 and the ASU cornerback sprinted down the Furman sideline. With help from Jeffries, Black evaded Napier at the 40 and picked up a block at the Paladin 20 as safety Nygel Rogers took out tailback Toreico O’Neal. With that, Black raced across the goal line.
That started a wild celebration with the entire ASU team mobbing Black in the end zone and finished with students tearing down one of the goal posts and parading it through the streets of town.
Jeffries, who had spent nearly every ounce of energy in the game, didn't join the team celebration that ensued on the field. He headed for the sideline and threw up before coming back on the field after ASU had received a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and grabbed Furman kicker Danny Marshall's onside kick attempt to seal the win.
"I honestly thought the game was over," said Jeffries. "The most bizarre thing I've ever been a part of happened."
Jeffries said that he and Black had rehearsed that very scenario, if Jeffries ever intercepted a pass.
"As soon as it happened, I was looking for someone to pitch it to," Jeffries said. "I knew I would get tackled."
"When he got the ball, I knew I was going to score," said Black, who had scored defensive touchdowns on a fumble recovery and a blocked field goal return already this season. "Their coach made a bad call and we capitalized on it."
Furman (4-2, 2-1) dominated the Mountaineers on both sides of the ball, out-gaining ASU 323-204 and piling up more than a two-to-one advantage in time of possession.
But Appalachian held the Paladins to a trio of Danny Marshall field goals until Furman's final drive.
A 43-yard interception return for a touchdown by Jonathan Lyles gave the Mountaineers a brief 7-6 lead with two minutes left in the third period, but Marshall's 36-yard kick with 11:03 remaining made it 9-7.
Joe Burchette (11-of-17 for 116 yards passing) engineered a 10-play, 79-yard drive, throwing a 24-yard scoring pass to fullback Joey Hoover to put ASU back in front, 14-9, with 5:39 on the clock.
The Mountaineers would not touch the ball again until Jeffries' interception.
"I feel like we had the ballgame won and I lost our team the game," said Napier, who was a sparkling 20-of-29 for 170 yards. "I think we got a little bit in a hurry as far as the play clock was concerned."
A devastated Furman coach Bobby Lamb said he took "full responsibility" for the loss. "I've lost a lot of games, but I've never lost one like this one today."
ASU coach Jerry Moore was quick to credit the character of his defense for turning the game around.
"Probably 90 percent of people would have gone through the motions on the two-point conversion," Moore said. "But not Jeffries and not Black."