By David Coulson
Executive Editor/Managing Partner
College Sports Journal
Editor’s Note: This is the latest offering in the CSJ Classic series. In this edition, we look back on the greatest football upset in Southern Conference history.
On Nov. 19, 1994, coach Bill Stewart brought an 0-10 team into Kidd Brewer Stadium to face an Appalachian State squad that was just four weeks removed from beating top-ranked Marshall, 24-14, in a nationally-televised game.
ASU went on to beat New Hampshire, 17-10 in overtime, a week later in the playoffs, before losing a narrow 17-14 decision at national runner-up Boise State in the I-AA quarterfinals.
All the Mountaineers needed was a win over winless VMI to secure an automatic bid to the NCAA Division I Football playoffs, but Stewart and the Keydets had other things in mind as he tried to win his first college game as a head coach.
The emotional coach had tears streaming down his face in the visiting locker room when this reporter spoke to him after the game.
Stewart passed away May 22, 2012 of an apparent heart attack at the age of 59. The story below appeared in the Nov. 20, 1994 editions of the Charlotte Observer and serves as a remembrance of a great coach, who was an even better person.
BOONE, N.C. — The definitive Southern Conference mismatch turned into the ultimate upset Saturday afternoon before 10,371 fans at Kidd Brewer Stadium as winless Virginia Military Institute denied Appalachian State a share of the Southern Conference title with a 26-23 victory in overtime.
VMI free safety Damon Pinero intercepted a Scott Satterfield pass in the end zone on second and goal from the seven in overtime to end the game and provide the Keydets with arguably the biggest upset in league history.
A 44-yard field goal by Geoff Goff — his third of the game — barely cleared the crossbar to give VMI (1-10, 1-7) the lead in overtime.
“I’m so proud of these young men,” said a teary-eyed VMI coach Bill Stewart, “because they kept banging, playing and believing. We played a great football team. For our guys to even hang with them means the world. It’s a heck of an upset in the history of VMI.”
The Keydets, who have won three games in overtime in the past three years, entered the game allowing 41.4 points and 457 yards per game. The VMI offense had scored just 127 points and the team had been blown out by an average of 35 points in the past nine games.
Appalachian State (8-3, 6-2, ranked 10th in I-AA) could have wrapped up a share of the conference title and an automatic bid to the playoffs with a win.
But the loss gives Marshall (10-1, 7-1) its first outright conference crown and leaves Appalachian’s fate in the hands of the NCAA football selection committee, which will announce the 16-team playoff bracket Sunday at 2:30 p.m. (SportSouth).
“I feel comfortable that we will be playing next Saturday at home,” Appalachian State athletic director Roachel Laney said. “This loss will probably hurt our ranking, but not much else.”
The Mountaineers sputtered offensively and had trouble containing VMI sophomore tailback Thomas Haskins (225 yards rushing on 32 carries, 277 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns) on defense.
“We’ve felt the pain all year,” said Haskins, whose best friend, ASU linebacker Dexter Coakley, was trying to catch him with the rest of the Mountaineer defense all day long. “Now, it’s time for someone else to feel the pain.”
Satterfield, who entered the game 5-0 as a starter, had one of his worst days. He was 16-of-32 passing for 235 yards, but threw three interceptions and misfired on numerous other attempts.
One of those interceptions led to a first-half Keydet touchdown and a Damon Scott (25 carries, 111 yards) fumble in the third quarter set up one of Goff’s field goals.
Trailing 10-6 at halftime, the Mountaineers came from behind three times to tie the score on an 11-yard Chip Hooks touchdown scamper, a 30-yard field goal by Jay Sutton and, finally, Satterfield’s three-yard bootleg run on fourth down with 33 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.
But the Mountaineers could never regain the lead after a 20-yard Sutton field goal struck first blood in the first quarter. VMI never trailed again following Haskins’ 31-yard jaunt for a touchdown that gave the Keydets a 7-3 advantage.
“It was an inconsistent day,” said Mountaineer coach Jerry Moore. “We’d make a good play and then we’d miss an easy one. The combination of (VMI) playing hard and us making mistakes was our downfall.”
As emotionally uplifting as the win was for Stewart, Haskins and the rest of the Keydet squad, it was equally devastating for the Mountaineers.
“I hurt like I’ve never hurt before in my life,” said Appalachian State senior defensive tackle William Peebles. “I’m in shock.”