Spiders, Mountaineers resume rivalry in FCS

RICHMOND, Va. -- Appalachian State and Richmond have met each of the past two seasons in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs -- each time the winner won the national championship.

Both hope the trend continues after Saturday night when they clash for the third consecutive postseason. It is the first time the game will be on the Spiders' home field.

Appalachian State (10-2) had won three consecutive national titles before losing 33-13 at home to the Spiders last season, a game in which Mountaineers quarterback Armanti Edwards threw a career-worst five second-half interceptions leading to four Spiders scoring drives.

Edwards won the Walter Payton Award as the top player in the FCS, but said this week that he and his teammates have been pointing toward a rematch all year.

"They put us out of the playoffs and embarrassed us on our home field," he said. "We've had a bad taste in our mouth for so long. We finally get a chance to redeem ourselves."

The Spiders (11-1) came within a 35-yard field goal of going unbeaten and spending the entire season ranked No. 1. They know they will be facing the standard bearer of FCS football, especially since Edwards is likely to be healthier than he was in the game a year ago.

Then, coach Jerry Moore said, the Mountaineers staff didn't realize how banged up their dual-threat star was, but a hip pointer and knee injury clearly made him a different player. In 2007 against Richmond, he rushed for 313 yards, the highest total for a quarterback in Division I history, and finished with a combined 495 yards of offense in Appalachian State 55-35 victory.

Last year, he ran for 3 yards, his lowest total ever until last week, when he was again slowed by knee issues. Appalachian State called no runs for him in a 20-13 victory against South Carolina State. This week, Edwards doesn't expect to be limited at all.

"We get to run any play in our offense," he said.

That makes the Mountaineers a different team, Spiders linebacker Patrick Weldon said.

"He does great with the run game. He makes a lot of good plays, a lot of speed and he avoids people in the pocket," Weldon said of the 6-foot, 185-pounder, "but what I think a lot of people underestimate is his ability to throw the ball. ... He's a great passing quarterback. He finds open receivers, he moves around the pocket. He makes things happen."

Edwards has run for 574 yards and 16 touchdowns and thrown for 2,722 yards and 11 TDs.

Richmond's Eric Ward is not as flashy -- he's run for 309 yards and four touchdowns and thrown for 2,194 yards and 15 TDs -- but has the same number of career wins: 41.

Ward guides an offense that has scored an average of 30 points per game, and benefits from having a defense that has allowed just 66.6 rushing yards and 15 points per outing.

The Spiders also don't seem satisfied by last year's title, Moore said.

"The bucket's empty when they walk off that field," the coach in his 28th season said. "They leave it all out there on the field. Those are teams that are hard to deal with."

Barring an upset in the quarterfinal between top-seeded Montana and Stephen F. Austin at Montana, the game will be the last the Spiders play in University of Richmond Stadium. They are moving to a smaller, on-campus stadium next season, and tailback Justin Forte hopes fans close this era right -- by making a run at filling all 21,319 seats for the final game.

The Mountaineers are expected the help by bringing several thousand fans of their own.

"A lot of their fans are talking about making this a home game for them because they travel so well," Forte said this week. "I know our fans aren't going to let that happen."

Weldon hopes the excitement he feels around campus is as evident on Saturday night, even thought the weather forecast calls for temperatures in the low 30s and possible rain.

"The buzz around campus, I think, is just amazing," he said. I don't think I've ever heard students be so excited for a football game, not only because it's a playoff game and we're playing a great team, but also, I think they like the night game atmosphere.

"It's going to be really electric out there."