— The reality is, it happened.
Michigan was ranked No. 5 and opening its season at home with a senior-laden offense that featured quarterback Chad Henne, left tackle Jake Long and running back Mike Hart. The defense was on the younger side, having lost seven starters, but this would be a good game to break it in.
Appalachian State was a two-time Football Championship Subdivision (Division I-AA) national champion from someplace most Michigan faithful weren’t familiar with: Boone, North Carolina. The team wasn’t especially deep, but there was some NFL-caliber talent on offense.
And clearly, the Mountaineers knew how to win.
On the eve of that game Sept. 1, 2007, Appalachian State coach Jerry Moore had his “Hoosiers” moment with the team, allowing them to explore Michigan Stadium, the biggest in the country, and see the locker rooms before practice — yes, the stadium was huge, but the field was the same as every other.
Moore knew his team was playing in what was considered a “money game” — Michigan paid Appalachian State $400,000.
He decided to call it something else.
“Every once in a while I’ll say something that has some substance,” Moore said with a laugh. “I always referred to it as an ‘opportunity game.’ We’ll go there one time, it’s a great opportunity for our school, a great opportunity to do something you’ll remember the rest of your lives.”
He was right.
The Mountaineers stunned the college football world that day, upsetting the Wolverines, 34-32, thanks to a field goal with 26 seconds left followed by a field-goal block in the final seconds.
“It’s like the U.S. hockey team beating Russia in the Olympics,” said Moore, whose team returns to Michigan Stadium for the rematch Saturday, this time as a member of the Football Bowl Subdivision (Division I). “It was one you remember the rest of your life. We had nice wins, but they were the No. 5 team in the nation and they had won more games than any other team in the history of college football.”
'Are you kidding me?'
It truly was David versus Goliath.
And it seemed the country rejoiced with David.
Videos appeared on YouTube from other Big Ten stadiums showing fans crowding the concourses to watch the final seconds, their roaring cheers for Appalachian State recorded for eternity.
Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio, whose rivalry with Michigan is heated, said on the radio after his team’s victory when told of the Michigan loss: “Should we have a moment of silence?”
The game made the cover of Sports Illustrated with the headline, “Alltime Upset.”
Applications to attend Appalachian State soared after the upset and Appalachian State T-shirt sales were through the roof, reportedly with significant sales to new Mountaineers fans in Ohio.
David Pollack, an ESPN analyst, was asked if he remembers his response when he saw the final score.
“ ‘Are you kidding me?’ ” he said, laughing. “I think everybody thought the same thing about that.”
Hart said the Wolverines didn’t consider Appalachian State a threat.
“It was one of those things, no excuses, but we underestimated them,” Hart said. “You saw what we did in the Big Ten that year. It wasn’t because we were talent-depleted.
“It was the first game of the year, and we thought we were going to beat them decisively. I mean, we were playing a I-AA team, but us being young on defense and going in with a cockiness, we had no chance to lose, coming off the year before.”
Jim Brandstatter, then an analyst for Michigan radio broadcasts, sensed something amiss in the middle of the second quarter.
“I kinda thought to myself, ‘This is a perfect storm, these guys are good,’ ” Brandstatter said. “I think I said it on the radio, that nobody is going to believe me, but this is a darn good offensive team. They challenged what our weakness was with a mobile quarterback (Armanti Edwards) and at that point, they’ve got confidence.
“I don’t think Michigan took them as seriously as they should have.”
Julian Rauch, now with the Pittsburgh Power of the Arena Football League, made the 24-yard field goal with 26 seconds left to give the Mountaineers the advantage.
“I’m glad I was the guy to bring down the Big House,” Rauch said.
And Appalachian State safety Corey Lynch made sure that once it was down, it stayed down. Jason Gingell attempted a 37-yard field goal with six seconds left. Lynch blocked it and returned it to the 18-yard line. The Mountaineers blocked two kicks.
“I’ll bet Corey Lynch blocked 20 kicks in two-a-days,” Moore said. “We thought special teams might give us, if we could win the special teams, we might have a chance. And sure enough we did.”
Hart takes different view
In the aftermath of the upset, then-Michigan coach Lloyd Carr and Moore never reached each other for the postgame handshake.
“This just shows you the class of Michigan and Lloyd Carr,” Moore said. “About 3 o’clock on Sunday we were in staff meeting, and he called. He congratulated us on the game. It was pure class.”
Rauch, who had missed a field goal attempt earlier, said the upset comes up weekly.
“The big question is always, ‘How nervous were you?’ ” Rauch said. “My response is always the same. I was disappointed I missed earlier off the upright, and you want to redeem yourself in that situation with the game-winner. It actually took the pressure off. My focus was on making the next kick.”
He knows his team pulled off the unthinkable and Appalachian State will live on in college football history.
“People still hold onto it,” Rauch said. “It’s definitely a treasured memory and definitely one of the highlights of my career.
“You don’t realize the significance of it until you’re done playing, or retired. One of these days I will sit back and enjoy it all.”
Hart prefers to look at how the season turned out. It ended with a stunning victory over Florida in the Capital One Bowl and the players carrying Carr, who announced his retirement after 14 seasons.
“We grew a lot as a team that year,” Hart said. “We were one game away from winning the Big Ten after losing to App State and getting destroyed by Oregon.
“You don’t even think about (Appalachian State) anymore. It gets brought up. It happened. It’s the biggest upset in college football history.”