Appalachian State and Furman Have More Than Pride to Play For

John HooperCorrespondent IINovember 4, 2011

Jerome Felton And Furman Met Appalachian State In The 2005 Division I-AA Semifinals. Appalachian State Claimed A 29-23 Win And Went On To Win Its First Of Three National Titles With A 21-16 Win Over Northern Iowa The Following Week
Jerome Felton And Furman Met Appalachian State In The 2005 Division I-AA Semifinals. Appalachian State Claimed A 29-23 Win And Went On To Win Its First Of Three National Titles With A 21-16 Win Over Northern Iowa The Following Week

In 1984, Appalachian State's football program would undergo a transformation which ultimately laid the foundation for its current success, as the Mountaineers were able to post a 21-14 upset win over the sixth-ranked Furman Paladins.

The goalposts would come down at Conrad Stadium on that afternoon following the Apps win over a program that everyone in the SoCon was chasing, with Furman having proven to be the "gold standard" in the league.

After all, it was a Paladin program that was in the middle of its "Decade of Dominance" and were the four-time defending league champions. Now, some 27 years later, the Furman football program is looking up to Appalachian State.

Over the years, there's been a constant tug-of-war between the league's two most successful programs (combined 23 SoCon titles, 12 Furman, 11 Appalachian State), as both have struggled with each other—and now Georgia Southern—for league supremacy.

Though the league has changed, with teams like Elon and Wofford now a threat, and Marshall trying its hand at the FBS level, the Appalachian State-Furman rivalry, as well as each of the programs' respective winning traditions, have survived the changing landscape of the SoCon and FCS football as a whole.

While I listened to Mountaineer Talk this week with head coach Jerry Moore, he made a comment that I think sums up the rivalry pretty well. He said something to the effect of Furman's program—while it had a new head coach at the helm in Bruce Fowler—wasn't a program that had fallen off the map as a traditional SoCon power, though, the program has endured its struggles in the past few seasons.

I would have to agree with those sentiments. It is strange to think how spoiled we have gotten with rivalries in the SoCon between the likes of Furman-Georgia Southern, Appalachian State-Georgia Southern or Furman-Appalachian State.

As a SoCon football fan myself, I think I can speak for the broad fanbase when I say that we expect something to be on the line when those teams meet on the gridiron every season.

With Furman having not qualified for the postseason since 2006, and Appalachian State in the middle of its most successful run as a football program having won six-straight league titles and three national titles since 2005, the past four meetings between the two have not held as much interest as the previous six meetings to start the new millennium.

However, with the 42nd meeting set to commence on Saturday between the two: That's all about to change.

You can almost feel the difference that this matchup holds, as opposed to the one in Boone last year when former Furman head coach Bobby Lamb not only needed to win to keep his team's hopes alive for the Paladins' fading playoff hopes, but more importantly, he needed the win to save his own job.

That, of course, did not happen and the Paladins went home with their sixth-straight loss to ASU, in a 37-26 Black Saturday defeat.

At 5-3 overall this season, the Paladins are very much alive for a playoff bid. In fact, a win over Appalachian State and Elon in their final two league games, despite how the Paladins do at Florida to close the season, would virtually put the Furman in the post-season for the first time since 2006.

It would be hard to keep a SoCon team out of the post-season with wins over a pair of top-five foes.

The intangible on the line for first-year head coach Bruce Fowler and Furman on Saturday will be the revival of a program that seemingly lost its way in the wintry, cold conditions of Bozeman, MT. in a 31-13 first-round playoff loss at Montana State nearly five years ago.

Likewise, there is much at stake for Appalachian State, who continues its quest for an unprecedented seventh-straight SoCon crown, as well as staying alive for a first-round playoff bye and top overall seeding in the upcoming FCS playoffs.

Also at stake, a third-straight win at Paladin Stadium, which is one of the tougher venues to come away with a win among the nine SoCon schools. Only one opponent has ever managed to come out of the facility with three-straight wins over the Paladins and that was Western Carolina; taking wins in the 1983 Division I-AA Semifinals, as well as winning in the facility in the '84 and '86 regular seasons.

Whatever the case may be, Saturday's matchup between Appalachian State and Furman has that old feel to it once again because there's something very real on the line for both programs, and that's the games we'll always remember in this rivalry. Will we remember Saturday as a classic? We will have our answer in a little more than 24 hours.