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(7) Richmond (10-3) at (2) Appalachian State (11-2)



The Sports Network

By John Hooper, FCS Correspondent

DATE & TIME: Saturday, December 6th, 12 p.m. (et).

FACTS & STATS: Site: Kidd Brewer Stadium (20,150) -- Boone, North Carolina. Surface: FieldTurf. Television: ESPN Game Plan. Announcers: Mike Gleason, John Congemi. Home Record: Richmond 5-1; Appalachian State 7-0. Away Record: Richmond 5-2; Appalachian State 4-2. Series Record: Appalachian State (4-2). Last meeting: December 7, 2007 (Appalachian State, 55-35 - FCS Playoffs). Series Streak: Appalachian State has won the last three meetings. Conference: Richmond - Colonial Athletic Association; Appalachian State - Southern. Sports Network Ranking: Richmond (7); Appalachian State (2). Nicknames: Richmond Spiders; Appalachian State Mountaineers. Playoff Record: Richmond (6-6); Appalachian State (21-12). Coaches: Richmond - Mike London (10-3); Appalachian State - Jerry Moore (205-120-2, overall; 178-72 at Appalachian State).

GAME NOTES: In two of the past three seasons, Richmond's season has met its end at the hands of a team from the Southern Conference. The Spiders will look to avoid that trend when they meet three-time defending national champion Appalachian State for the second-straight postseason, only this time's battle occurs in the quarterfinals.

Appalachian State toppled Richmond 55-35 in last year's semifinals, turning in a spectacular offensive show.

Aside from the fact Richmond and Appalachian State are meeting less than a year later, there is much more shared between the two teams entering the 2008 encounter than the obvious. The Spiders and the Mountaineers represent two of just five teams that have made quarterfinal appearances the past four seasons.

The two also share a pair of common opponents, Elon and James Madison, both going 1-1 on the season in their respective meetings with the two schools. ASU lost 35-32 to JMU in September, but beat Elon 24-16 In November. Richmond dropped a heartbreaking 38-31 decision to James Madison in the middle of the year, but defeated Elon 28-10 in the season-opener.

ASU and Richmond have met six times since the 1974 season, with the Mountaineers holding a 4-2 lead in the all-time series edge. Appalachian State holds a 3-0 advantage in the FCS postseason and hasn't suffered defeat at the hands of the Spiders since the 1978 season.

The Mountaineers have also won 41 of the past 42 games since 2003 at Kidd Brewer Stadium and have captured an FCS record 13 consecutive postseason wins.

Like the 2007 encounter between the two squads, Richmond brings an offense that favors the run (185 yards per game), but sports more balance than some of the previous Dave Clawson-led Richmond clubs. The Spiders, who were led by one of the nation's leading rushers Tim Hightower last year (1,924 yards), are now paced by another of the nation's best runners, Josh Vaughan (1,503 yards, 16 TDs).

Last season, Appalachian was able to hold Hightower 44 yards under his 141- yards-per-game average entering the semifinal contest. It was quarterback Eric Ward (2,311 yards, 14 TDs, seven interceptions) and wide receiver Kevin Grayson (51 catches, 14.3 yards per catch, 729 yards, two TDs) that provided the biggest challenge to the ASU defense. Grayson put together the best receiving performance of his 2007 CAA Freshman of the Year campaign, hauling in seven Ward passes for a then career-high 122 yards and two TDs in Richmond's semifinal loss to the Mountaineers.

Meanwhile, Ward recorded his one of his best career performances, passing for 208 yards, two TDs and an interception, while also rushing for 79 yards and a TD in the loss to Appalachian. Ward was named national player of the week after leading the Spiders to a 28-10 season-opening win at common opponent and 15th- ranked Elon. Ward connected on 17-of-22 throws for 236 yards and two TDs to lead the Spiders to the road win.

While Grayson has acted as more of a possession receiver this fall, Tre Gray (45 receptions, 13.1 yards per catch, 602 yards, four TDs) has been a solid compliment, both as a possession-type receiver and a deep threat in the Richmond passing game.

Defensively, the Spiders bring the nation's fifth-ranked defense (251 yards per game) into Kidd Brewer Stadium. The Richmond defense, which returned eight starters from the 2007 unit, has held six-straight opponents to less than 100 yards rushing. Appalachian hasn't been limited to 100 yards on the ground, since LSU allowed the Mountaineers to just 52 yards in the season opener.

Powering the Richmond defense in 2008 has been an outstanding defensive line, anchored by two of the nation's top defensive ends, Sherman Logan (12 tackles for loss, six sacks) and Lawrence Sidbury Jr. (16 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks).Both were forced to miss last season's semifinal encounter with the Mountaineers due to injuries.

Richmond also boasts one of the CAA's and nation's premier group of linebackers, led by Colin McConaghy (54 tackles) and Eric McBride (85 tackles, six tackles for loss, two sacks). McConaghy missed the past two games with an elbow injury, but is expected to return the lineup against ASU.

As strong as Richmond's front seven has been this season, its secondary has helped the defense put together a record-setting season, recording a school- record 23 interceptions. Eight different Spiders have interceptions, led by cornerback Justin Rodgers (41 tackles, six interceptions) and safety Derek Hatcher (64 tackles, five tackles for loss, four interceptions).

Like his counterpart Ward, Edwards (2,579 yards, 29 TDs, four interceptions, 938 rushing yards, 10 TDs) is coming off a career-best passing performance, setting a school record by throwing for 433 yards, four TDs and two interceptions in the 37-21 win over South Carolina State. It was Edwards who set an all divisions record for rushing yards for a quarterback in last season's win over Richmond, running for 313 yards and four TDs. He accounted for seven TDs in the semifinal meeting, including completing 14-of-16 passes for 182 yards and three TDs, to finish the night with 495 yards of total offense. Edwards was named one of the three finalists for the Walter Payton Award this week and is the nation's leader in passing efficiency.

While Edwards is still the team's leading rusher, the Mountaineers biggest offensive question entering the 2008 campaign was how to replace the school's all-time leading rusher, Kevin Richardson. ASU, which saw starter Devon Moore go down with a season-ending injury against James Madison, has been relied on the legs of both Robert Welton (536 yards, 11 TDs) and Devon Radford (509 yards, four TDs) for a majority of the season.

The top options in the passing game for ASU continue to be receivers CoCo Hillary (46 catches, 13.9 average, five TDs) and Brian Quick (17 receptions, 23.6 average, seven TDs), while Ben Jorden (24 grabs, 17.2 yards per catch, 413 yards, five TDs) has emerged as one of the nation's top tight ends in the nation as a redshirt freshman. The trio combined with Edwards to account for all four passing scores in last week's first-round win.

The cornerstone of success for Appalachian State's defense in 2008 has been a veteran corps of linebackers, with Southern Conference defensive player of the year Jacque Roman (113 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, four fumble recoveries, two sacks, two interceptions), Pierre Banks (79 tackles, four tackles for loss, two sacks, 11 pass break-ups) and D.J. Smith (109 tackles, six tackles for loss) leading the way.

The Mountaineer secondary has been able to reload with the nation's leader in interceptions, Mark LeGree (10 interceptions) at safety. Cortez Gilbert (66 tackles, 16 pass break-ups, two interceptions) will likely draw the assignment of covering Grayson, and has been one of the country's elite cover-corners in 2008.

A year ago ASU burned Richmond with its superior speed and while the Spiders are better defensively, they still trail the Mountaineers in terms of talent and would need a near-perfect game to derail the three-time champs.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Appalachian State 38, Richmond 24.

12/04 18:21:34 ET


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