How many moments in your life do you know exactly where you were when something significant happened?
For me, at age 30, the first thoughts turn to world events like 9/11. Sports moments are on that list as well. Dale Earnhardt’s death announcement is the moment of my childhood where the world stood still.
In my adult life, the one that caused me the most unbridled joy happened at 3:47 p.m. ET on Sept. 1, 2007.
At that time, Corey Lynch went unblocked through a hole in the Michigan offensive line and blocked a 37-yard Jason Gingell field goal. Lynch then scooped up the ball and ran approximately 55 years before being tackled by the holder, Zoltan Mesko, at the five-yard line.
The block and return ran out the final few seconds of Appalachian State’s 34-32 upset of Michigan in front of over 109,000 people in Michigan Stadium on a perfect day in Ann Arbor.
In that last paragraph, everything I wrote was from memory. Why? Because I was a student at App State at the time.
Watching in Boone, I ran screaming into the streets and celebrated with other fellow students for the rest of the day and night. It was the greatest sporting event moment of my life, hands down. I’m somewhere in the below video.
Ask any App fan from that time period about Michigan and odds are, they’ll tell you exactly where they were when it happened.
Some were in Boone, some in Ann Arbor, some elsewhere. The stories are different, but the reaction is the same: pure, unbridled joy.
“Where were you when App State beat Michigan?” is a question not only Mountaineer fans can answer, but American sports fans can. Not just college football fans, but sports fans in general.
There might have been bigger upsets in terms of better lines and statistics, but none captured the imagination like App State 34, Michigan 32.
A lower-division team playing one of the blue bloods of college football.
A team of mountain hicks who could be from one of five different states using a new-fangled spread option against the power football of the royalest of the royals in the classiest of stadiums.
To the regular sports fan, this wasn’t David taking down Goliath with one shot in 60 seconds, this was David slaying Goliath in a 60-minute back and forth slugest with a left jab at the bell. It’s Luke Skywalker blowing up the Death Star without the Millenium Falcon’s help.
The story of the game is too long to get into. App State punches Michigan several times in the first half to go ahead 28-17 by halftime, then holds on for dear life, relying on timely defensive plays and Wolverine blunders to keep the lead until Michigan finally re-takes the lead late, but App State responds with a brilliant drive with no timeouts, kicks a field goal on first down (seriously), gives up a hail mary, but blocks the field goal to win.
It was a crazy stupid game, especially in the final five minutes. But those five minutes made a ripple effect that turned into a tsunami over ten years.
The game changed many things. For one, the AP Poll now allows votes for FCS teams. It ushered in a wide implementation of the spread option offense, for better or worse, and it sent Michigan into eight years of failed experiments.
It also started off the year of the upset in college football where being ranked #2 was a curse.
A big effect that isn’t talked about much is how this was the first-ever live game on the brand-new Big Ten Network. The BTN footage was shown with credit on every broadcast for the next week and still is shown even today. Heck of a way to get your fledgling network out there.
Without the Big Ten Network, you don’t have the Longhorn Network or the SEC Network. You don’t have Nebraska, Rutgers or Maryland, especially the latter two, in the Big Ten. And remember that it was the Big Ten that opened the doors for the realignment that effected every Division 1 conference except the Ivy League.
So in a way, App State beating Michigan led to App State later getting into FBS and the Sun Belt.
All because Corey Lynch lined up in a different spot for the final play of the game.