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Deja Vu: Apps Open 2009 Playoffs with Familiar Foe

John Hooper@soconjohn22Correspondent IINovember 27, 2009

For the second year in a row, Appalachian State will welcome Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference champion South Carolina State to The Rock for an opening round game in the 2009 Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.

The Mountaineers, who finished off their fifth-straight SoCon crown by clinching an outright league title with a 19-14 win over Western Carolina last Saturday, take on a Bulldogs team that has yet to lose an FCS game this season.

The only blemish on the SCSU slate was a 38-14 setback at South Carolina on Oct. 3., in a game that was competitive for the better part of three quarters. ASU was without All-American quarterback Armanti Edwards, who suffered a strained ACL in the win at Elon the previous week, but he is expected to be 100 percent for Saturday’s first-round clash with the Bulldogs.

The Bulldogs were 37-21 losers in Boone last year in their first post-season appearance in 26 years. The Mountaineers are 6-2 all-time against teams from the MEAC, and 1-1 against MEAC teams in the postseason. The last time the Apps faltered against a team from the MEAC, it was in the FCS postseason, as Florida A&M came to The Rock a decade ago and came away with a 44-29 upset win over the SoCon co-champions to bring an early end to what seemed to be promising playoff prospects for the Mountaineers.

The Bulldogs last loss to an FCS team was that 37-21 loss they suffered on a cold, rainy afternoon at The Rock in 2008. It was a game in which Armanti Edwards, who sat out the final game of the 2008 regular season against Western Carolina, passed for a school-record 433 yards and 29-of-41 passing, which included four touchdown passes. The Mountaineers held just a 24-21 lead after three quarters of play before they broke away in the final quarter.

The Bulldogs have 12 starters back from that team that played so valiantly at The Rock last season. Leading the offense is a talented backfield that features senior quarterback Malcolm Long and senior running back William Ford, who comes to Boone as the MEAC’s all-time leading rusher.

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Long is a much more experienced, poised quarterback this season, as opposed to last year in which was his first season as a starter for the Bulldogs. Long is a big, but surprisingly athletic presence at the quarterback position for the Bulldogs. In the 37-21 first-round loss to the Mountaineers last season, Long connected on 17-of-40 passes for 176 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception.

Long has managed to put together another strong season calling out the signals for the Bulldogs. He enters Saturday’s matchup having connected on 192-of-289 passes for 2,318 yards, 20 touchdowns, and just seven interceptions. Long has made good decisions throwing the football in his second season as a starter.

When Long hands the ball off, it will be to Walter Payton Award candidate William Ford, who became the MEAC’s all-time leading rusher with his 156 yard, two touchdown performance in last Saturday’s 28-10 win over arch-rival North Carolina A&T. Ford, a 5'11", 180 pound running back from Traveler’s Rest, S.C., put forth a strong effort in last season’s loss to the Mountaineers at The Rock. He lived up to the hype the first time around, finishing the afternoon with 117 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries.

Ford enters Saturday’s rematch having not quite posted the gaudy numbers he traveled to Boone with in 2008, but still enters the contest with an impressive stat line. In 11 games this season, Ford has rushed for 1,010 yards and eight touchdowns on a total of 187 rush attempts. He enters Saturday’s game with 4,649 career rushing yards and 12 touchdowns. As a receiving threat, Ford has also acquitted himself in fine fashion for SCSU, with 17 receptions for 118 yards and a couple of touchdowns.

Ford is only one dimension of the two-headed monster the Bulldogs will bring to The Rock on Saturday afternoon. Ford, who’s more of the speed back in the SCSU offense, is complimented well by another Upstate South Carolina native, Travil Jamison, who acts as more of the power back for the Bulldogs.

Jamison, a 6'0", 200 pound senior, enters Saturday’s contest as the Bulldogs’ second-leading rusher, with 328 yards and five touchdowns on 88 rush attempts this season.

Although the Bulldogs will be without talented tight end Octavius Darby, who gave the Mountaineer secondary fits with five receptions for 68 yards and a couple of touchdowns last season, the Bulldogs bring a healthy corps of capable receiving options to Saturday’s first-round matchup.

The leading option of that talented group is senior Oliver Young. The All-MEAC wide receiver has led the Bulldogs in receiving the past two seasons, and has put together his strongest season yet as a Bulldog. In his first 11 games this season, Young has caught 58 passes for 903 yards and nine touchdowns. Young is the primary deep threat for the Bulldogs. He enjoyed his top performance of the 2009 season a couple of weeks ago in a 37-13 win over Morgan State, hauling in six passes for 166 yards and a couple of scores.

Another dangerous threat at receiver for SCSU entering Saturday’s contest is Terrance Smith. Smith is in his first season as a starting receiver for the Bulldogs and has been a reliable option for Long so far in his inaugural campaign as a starter. Through 11 games entering Saturday’s, Smith has caught 36 passes for 491 yards and four touchdowns.

Another experienced option at wide receiver for the Bulldogs is senior Matt Washington. Washington has been used primarily as a possession receiver for the Bulldogs this season. He is the team’s third-leading wideout, with 26 receptions for 311 yards.

The offensive line was a unit that was dealt the biggest blow as a result of graduation coming into the 2009 season, as All-American and MEAC offensive lineman of the year Raymond Harrison had to be replaced at center.

The Bulldogs did, however, return three talented starters along the front, anchored by first-team All-MEAC offensive tackle Jonathan Culbreath, who has NFL talent according to several draft sources. Culbreath teams with Juavahr Nathan (OG) and Casey Fortune (OG). The trio has helped the Bulldogs rank 34th in the FCS in rushing offense (158.4 YPG), 33rd in passing offense (219.9 YPG), 28th in total offense (378.3 YPG), and 16th in scoring offense (32.0 PPG).

Even more impressive than the offense for the Bulldogs in the ‘09 season has been the defense that SCSU has fielded in each of the previous 11 Saturday’s entering Saturday’s first-round showdown.

The Bulldogs bring the nation’s fifth-ranked defense (250.6 YPG) and ninth best scoring defense (15.1 PPG) to The Rock on Saturday. The Bulldogs have been strongest against the pass this season (151.1 YPG—ninth in FCS), but haven’t seen much of a drop-off against the run (99.5 YPG—14th in FCS).

The top unit on the defensive side of the football all season for the Bulldogs has been a talented, athletic group of linebackers. Leading that impressive unit again this season have been junior outside linebacker David Erby and former Clemson recruit Julius Wilkerson in the middle.

Erby is an athletic presence on the defensive side of the ball for the Bulldogs and has blossomed into one of the best linebackers in the MEAC. This season, Erby has accounted for 65 tackles, five tackles for loss, four sacks, two forced fumbles, and a blocked kick.

Wilkerson will occupy the middle linebacker position for the Bulldogs on Saturday afternoon. The 6'4", 225 pound junior is a big, physical presence for South Carolina State and is another playmaker on the defensive side of the football for the Bulldogs.

Wilkerson was a highly sought after player coming out of high school, originally signing a national letter of intent to attend Clemson University, but ended up playing for Buddy Pough at South Carolina State. Wilkerson has put together a strong season for the Bulldogs and enters Saturday’s contest with the Mountaineers, having contributed 55 tackles, seven and a half tackles for loss, three and a half sacks, and has forced a couple of fumbles.

The defensive line is another strength of the Bulldogs’ defense and will present the Mountaineer offensive front with their toughest challenge since the Elon game a couple of weeks ago. Leading that strong unit entering Saturday’s affair is senior defensive end Markus James.

James has excellent quickness and athleticism, and is one of the premier playmakers on the defensive side of the football for the Bulldogs. So far in the ‘09 season, James has 13 tackles, two tackles for loss, and one and a half sacks.

Set to start at the other defensive end position for the Bulldogs on Saturday afternoon against the Mountaineers is redshirt junior Jason Ayers. Ayers has been a solid presence along the defensive line this season for the Bulldogs, and like his teammate James, is an athletic, rangy pass rushing defensive end. In total this fall, Ayers has 15 tackles, eight and a half tackles for loss, and three and a half sacks.

The two interior positions along the defensive line for the Bulldogs will be occupied by sophomore Ronnel Ferguson and senior Otis Key. Ferguson will man the defensive tackle position, while Key will start at nose guard for the Bulldogs on Saturday. Ferguson has put up some healthy numbers along the defensive interior for the Bulldogs so far in ‘09, contributing 17 tackles, four and a half tackles for loss, and two sacks. Key has amassed 15 tackles, two tackles for loss, and a fumble recovery.

Rounding out the 4-2-5 defensive scheme for the Bulldogs is a talented secondary. Leading the unit entering Saturday’s showdown at The Rock is free safety Rafael Bush. The All-MEAC selection is a ball-hawk in the secondary for the Bulldogs. The senior is one of the catalysts of this SCSU defense, and comes into Saturday afternoon’s contest with 42 tackles, two tackles for loss, three pass break-ups, an interception, and a fumble recovery.

The strong safety position will be occupied by another talented, athletic presence in senior Markee Hamlin. Hamlin is a vicious hitter, with good size and speed. He enters Saturday’s first-round showdown with 40 tackles, three interceptions, three pass break-ups, and a tackle for loss. His three interceptions tie him for first with two other Bulldogs for the team lead in interceptions.

The ‘bandit’ safety position will be manned by junior Devonne Quattlebaum. Quattlebaum is another experienced, talented component of this SCSU secondary. Quattlebaum comes into Saturday’s contest with 35 tackles, four tackles for loss, half a sack, two fumble recoveries, three pass break-ups, and an interception.

The two starting cornerbacks for Saturday afternoon’s contest will be junior Semaj Moody and Phillip Adams. Both players were selected as members of the 2009 All-MEAC team and probably comprise the best tandem of corners the Mountaineers have faced this season. Moody, a junior, enters Saturday’s contest with 12 tackles, three interceptions, three pass break-ups, and a tackle for loss. Adams, a senior, has compiled 38 tackles, five tackles for loss, a team leading 11 pass break-ups, and three interceptions in ‘09.

Notes on Last Year’s Game

Appalachian State senior quarterback and Walter Payton Award candidate Armanti Edwards passed for a school-record 433 yards and four touchdowns, helping lead No. 2 seeded Appalachian State University to a hard-fought 37-21 victory over South Carolina State in NCAA Division I FCS first-round playoff action at The Rock.

With the win, the Mountaineers were able to advance to the quarterfinal round of the playoffs for the fourth-straight year, rolling up a 557-325 advantage in total offense to take the contest. The Mountaineers also got impressive performances from a trio of wide receivers, as Brian Quick caught five passes for 95 yards and two scores while CoCo Hillary nearly matched Quick’s totals with five catches for 94 yards and a touchdown and tight end Ben Jorden hauled in six passes for 62 yards and a score.

Not to be lost in the impressive offensive effort, was the performance by the Black and Gold defense, which was led by outside linebacker D.J. Smith, who led all tacklers in the contest tying a career high with 16 tackles.

South Carolina State was led offensively by a Walter Payton Award candidate of its own in junior running back William Ford. Ford had 23 carries for 117 yards and a touchdown. Junior signal caller Malcolm Long was able to connect on 17-of-40 passes for 176 yards, a couple of touchdowns, and an interception.

 

Extra Notes

—Appalachian State senior quarterback Armanti Edwards is 40-6 all-time as a starting quarterback.

—With a win over SCSU, the Mountaineers have a potential matchup with either Elon or Richmond looming on the horizon. With an Elon win over Richmond, the Mountaineers would face the Phoenix for the second time in three weeks and it would mark the first time since the 2005 season that the Apps have faced a SoCon team twice in the same season, last playing Furman twice in the 2005 campaign. I

f the Mountaineers should face Richmond, it would be the third straight season ASU has faced the Spiders and would mark Appalachian State's first road playoff game since December 8, 2001, when ASU faced Georgia Southern. That was also the last time the Mountaineers faced a defending national champion in the FCS playoffs. Richmond came to Boone and got a 33-13 win over the Apps en route to the school’s first ever national title. That ended the Mountaineers’ streak of 13 straight FCS playoff victories in continuous seasons from 2005-08.

—Edwards was named the SoCon’s Player of the Year for the second year in a row, while left tackle Mario Acitelli claimed the Jacobs Blocking Award and head coach Jerry Moore was the league’s Coach of the Year. Edwards, who claimed the league’s Player of the Year honor for the second straight season, became the first player in league history to accomplish that feat in consecutive campaigns.

 

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