CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. - Christmas came 11 days early for Appalachian State.
The Mountaineers rolled to a 49-21 victory over Delaware last night for the Football Championship Subdivision title.
It started with a Super Bowl atmosphere, with the sold-out crowd of 23,010 watching Army parachutists landing at midfield, fireworks and jets flying over above Finley Stadium.
But after kickoff, Appalachian State provided most of the fireworks.
No. 5 Appalachian State (12-2), ranked third in the nation in scoring with an average of 42.3 points per game, won the crown for the third straight year, the first-ever school to do so.
The Mountaineers, who have won 12 straight playoff games, ended their season in the same manner they started it - beating teams with similar uniforms in big games. Appalachian State upset Michigan, 34-32, on Sept. 1 to start its 2007 campaign.
The Mountaineers went 58 yards on their first possession and took a 7-0 lead when Armanti Edwards threw a 19-yard screen pass to running back Kevin Richardson. The Blue Hens appeared to tie the game on their next possession with a 4-yard rushing touchdown by All-America running back Omar Cuff, but the play was reviewed and overturned. With two shots at the end zone on the goal line, Delaware was unable to punch it in and turned the ball over on downs.
Delaware coach K.C. Keeler said he went with aggressive playcalling because of Appalachian State's potent offense.
"I went for it on fourth-and-1 because I thought we had to go by sevens," Keeler said, explaining why he didn't go for a field goal.
That would prove costly as Appalachian State went 99 yards on five plays and doubled its lead when Devon Moore sprinted up the middle for 46 yards and a score.
Again, Delaware drove the field but All-America kicker Jon Striefsky attempted a 35-yard field goal that went wide left, giving the Mountaineers the ball back.
The Hens had two drives that reached the red zone, but failed to score. The Mountaineers had a third-and-15 on Delaware's 16-yard line, but a pass interference call on junior defensive back Marvin McKinnie gave Edwards and Appalachian State a new set of downs from the Delaware 1.
On second down, Richardson fumbled while attempting to score, but tight end Daniel Kilgore recovered it in the end zone, giving the Mountaineers a 21-0 lead.
The Hens finally were able to move the ball with less than 3 minutes left in the half. From the Appalachian State 24, wide receiver Aaron Love's touchdown reception was negated by an offensive pass-interference call. Two plays later, Joe Flacco (17-for-33, 226 yards) threw a 39-yard touchdown to Mark Duncan.
The play also went under review. The touchdown was confirmed and Delaware was on the board, but down, 21-7. With 1:05 left before halftime, the Mountaineers were able to score again.
Flacco said it was tough for the Hens to fight back from the large early deficit.
"Right now, I think everybody's a little disappointed," Flacco said. "I can't be more proud of my guys."
Edwards, who was 4-for-6 for 132 yards and two touchdowns in the first half, connected on a 60-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Dexter Jackson to go back up by 21.
Appalachian State put togther a drive of more than 6 1/2 minutes in the third quarter, capped off with Richardson's 8-yard touchdown reception.
Delaware went 12 plays for 64 yards and scored on a Cuff's 1-yard run. On second-and-2, Flacco overthrew Love, but a late hit from Mountaineers cornerback Jerome Touchstone moved the chains 15 yards, keeping the drive alive.
Edwards (9-for-15, 198 yards), who ran for 313 yards last week in a 55-35 win over No. 6 Richmond, rushed for 89 on 18 carries against the Hens.
Appalachian State wore out the Hens in the fourth quarter by rushing the ball all the way until Richardson scored from 6 yards out, putting the game out of reach at 42-14.
But Duncan did give Blue Hens fans one final thrill. After Trey Elder ran 53 yards for a Mountaineers touchdown with 3 1/2 minutes left, Duncan took the ensuing kickoff 75 yards for a score.
Keeler said the Delaware seniors, including Cuff and Flacco, will be missed next year.
"Our senior class got us here," he said. "I went around to them, hugged them and thanked them." *