Wednesday, September 1, 2010

September 1, 2007: One sour cupcake

ANN ARBOR, Mich. - There was no reason to keep running. All Corey Lynch had to do was fall to the ground, and the biggest party in the history of Boone, North Carolina, was set to begin. But really, who can blame him for running? When you've clinched your sport's biggest upset in years, if not ever, your natural reaction would be to run around in celebration, anyway. It just so happened that Lynch began his celebration while he had the ball.

Appalachian State wasn't supposed to have any chance against Michigan, but that was kind of the point. The Mountaineers were the defending I-AA national champions, but they were still cupcakes, paid a hefty paycheck to come in and get their ass kicked by a Division I-A powerhouse. Michigan, ranked No. 5 in I-A, had paid Appalachian State $500,000 for what the Wolverines surely saw as nothing more than a tuneup game for when the real season started.

Little did they know.

The first pangs of worry most likely started in the second quarter, when the Mountaineers scored three straight touchdowns to take a 28-14 halftime lead. Surely nobody had seen that coming. So fine, Michigan wouldn't cover the 27-point spread today. Whatever. They'll just go to the locker room, get reamed out by their coaches, and come out and show these Mountaineers their true place in football's heirarchy. And it took a little longer than Michigan would have liked, but here they were, with a 32-31 lead with 4:36 left in the game.

Then Appalachian State threw that interception. It was surely over, then. It was a squeaker, sure, much closer than Michigan would have liked, but perhaps they could learn from this, learn to never take a game for granted. The Wolverines would run out the clock, kick another field goal, and go figure out how to get better.

Then something funny happened. The Mountaineers blocked the kick. Then their quarterback, Armanti Edwards, started playing out of his mind. An 18-yard rush, followed by four straight completions, and suddenly, improbably, the Mountaineers were down at the Michigan 5, 30 seconds left. They didn't mess around with running a few plays, either. They just went ahead and kicked it, taking a 34-32 lead, but giving Michigan some hope.

And that almost turned out fatal. A 46-yard pass from Chad Henne to Mario Manningham got the Wolverines down to the 20-yard line, 6 seconds left. Now it was Michigan's turn to kick the field goal, and the upset bid would come up painfully short. Never mind that Michigan's last field goal was blocked. There's no way that could happen again...

Well, Lynch burst through the line like Michigan had forgotten about him. He scooped up the ball himself, running downfield while the rest of his teammates celebrated the most improbable win of all time. He was finally tackled at the 5-yard line by Michigan players, got up, then was promptly tackled by his own teammates. The party was on.

Students left behind in tiny Boone, North Carolina, went crazy, celebrating long into the night. They broke into the Mountaineer's home football stadium and tore down the goalpost, depositing it in the athletic director's front yard. He truly didn't care. Even though they had won two straight national titles, no victory had ever meant as much as this. Bolstered by their upset, they won a third straight title that year.

Michigan, meanwhile, has never been the same. They plummeted from No. 5 to out of the rankings, the first team to ever fall so far. They recovered for a 9-4 record, but it's been downhill from there, with two straight losing seasons, something completely foreign to Michigan. They are certainly at their lowest point in decades, and all because of a hired cupcake who refused to play along.

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