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Upset leaves its mark on town

The Baltimore Sun

BOONE, N.C.-- --The buzz on the streets is palpable, and trust me on this, it is loud. The pride for Appalachian State cannot be questioned. The buzz inside Ink Link, however, is low and steady. The Mountaineer pride in here cannot be erased.

The buzz stems from a tattoo gun, and in the past week, more than a dozen Mountaineers fans have marched through the front door - for the sake of accuracy, some have stumbled - and asked the colorful man holding the gun to ensure that they'd never forget the most amazing win that no one ever imagined.

"There was one guy just last night - an older, wealthy type - and he wanted a tattoo of the scoreboard from last week right on his [butt]," said David King, co-owner of Ink Link whose arms have more color than an ice cream shop's freezer. "We put it on him - the score, the game clock, the whole thing - right on his [butt]."

Fans are intent on remembering the upset over Michigan for a lifetime, and even though another team was on the opposing sideline yesterday, it was the week-old game against the Wolverines that still had everyone talking.

One week later, Appalachian State found itself in a blowout after all, but it wasn't the cuddly, lovable underdog this time. The opponent was Lenior-Rhyne (no, it's not a French perfume; it's a 1,600-student Division II team in western North Carolina) and the Mountaineers were heavy favorites. They did to the Bears what the Wolverines were supposed to do them, winning big, 48-7.

"Praise the Lord we didn't get anybody hurt," Lenior-Rhyne coach Fred Goldsmith said when it was all over.

The most giddy fan base in the nation packed the stadium to watch their giant-killers in person, most for the first time this season. More than 28,000 passed through the gates of Kidd Brewer Stadium, which has an official capacity of 16,600 in a city with an official population of just 13,000.

Fans watched from grassy areas, atop recreational vehicles, and crowded among the trees that surround the stadium. Though the scale is smaller, the atmosphere and excitement surrounding yesterday's game matches anything in the Big Ten or Southeastern Conference.

"They may have five acres of tobacco or 20 acres of Christmas trees, but they love the Mountaineers," said Appalachian State coach Jerry Moore, who led his team to the past two Division I-AA national titles. "And we love them."

Moore took an unscheduled drive yesterday before the game to pick up his wife's car from the auto shop. He said he couldn't believe what he saw - seven hours before kickoff, and the town simply couldn't wait. "I'm driving down Rivers Street and I'm thinking, 'What in the world is going on?'" he said. "They had all those tents, all that stuff in parking lots at 8, 8:30 this morning."

That's what happens when you become the first small school in college football history to topple a ranked big school. They gave hope to little guys everywhere and signaled a big change in the college football landscape, an injection of much-needed parity across the board.

All week around here, you couldn't turn a corner without getting slapped in the face with Mountaineer mania. Signs celebrating the Wolverine win hung in front of hotels, barbecue joints, women's boutiques, McDonald's and dance clubs. The young girl hanging out the drive-thru window at Wendy's was covered in gold yesterday, and the sign hanging over the town mall asked, "Michigan who?"

And the T-shirts are everywhere. Local stores started selling them just a few hours after the Michigan win, and Moore joked that his team has afforded Boone screen-printers the opportunity to retire comfortably.

There's a gold shirt that reads, "Betcha know where Boone, NC is now!!!" and a black one asking, "Where's Ann Arbor?" A gray one that says, "Got 400k?" on the front and "ASU does" on the back, referring to the guaranteed paycheck the Wolverines dangled to lure the Mountaineers up to Ann Arbor.

David Jackson, the Moutaineers' radio voice, said the small mountain community revolves around the school and the football team is a big part of that. Still, he conceded that yesterday, the vibe felt like "Appalachian State football on steroids."

"It's just all anybody's talking about - in classes, around town, on buses, at the drugstore. It's all that's going on," Jackson said. "I don't think it's sunk in for anybody yet. It's such an amazing accomplishment, and we're still in the midst of the aftermath. It feels like the world's longest post-game show. It honestly might not be until after the season's over that we can really reflect on it."

Around the stadium yesterday, no one gave two thoughts about the afternoon's Lenior-Rhyne matchup. They were exchanging Where-Were-You stories from the weekend before. One grad student was listening on the car radio and had to pull off on the side of the road because she got so excited. An undergraduate joined the goal-post parade and had the photos on his phone to prove it.

Even though the win against the Wolverines came on the road, Appalachian State fans still stormed their home field, tearing down the posts and giving them a tour of town. They finally plopped the goal post down on the front yard of Chancellor Dr. Kenneth Peacock, who watched the historic win in person and was greeted with a new lawn ornament when he returned home about 1 a.m. Sunday.

"I loved it," he said. "The most beautiful present I've ever had."

Peacock is already bracing himself for an influx of applications for next fall. He said the same thing happened when Appalachian State won its first Division I-AA title two years ago. But the attention surrounding that win was nothing like last week, when the school was flooded with about 300 media interview requests, appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated and on the front page of The New York Times.

"There's been nothing like this in my time at Appalachian or in my whole life," said Peacock, watching yesterday's win from the sideline. "Phone calls from Boone to Hong Kong. E-mails, messages - the Appalachian family is just so proud right now. Fifteen minutes doesn't pass without someone wanting to talk about it."

As the season progresses, the meaning of that Week 1 win could very well change. For now, it's a reminder that the little guy can always pull off an upset.

But as Michigan lost a second straight game yesterday, the Wolverines offered some credence to whispers saying they were never very good to begin with. Similarly, Appalachian State's Week 2 performance validated the cheers that said the Mountaineers really are.

Using its second-string quarterback, Appalachian State scored on its first six possessions. The Mountaineers led 38-0 at the half and later 48-0, before the Bears finally scored in the game's waning moments. Their backup quarterback threw for four touchdowns and ran for one, and wide receiver Dexter Jackson, the Sports Illustrated cover boy, now has four touchdowns on five receptions this season.

This team is legitimately good. It was good before the Michigan win and it'll be good for many weeks to come. And just in case anyone might forget, King has his tattoo gun ready to go. They come to him asking for the Mountaineers helmet, the logo and the numbers "34-32."

"One guy came in here with his head shaved and said he wanted his head to look like a Mountaineer helmet," King said. "So we did it."

That guy won't be able to walk by a mirror without remembering Appalachian State's biggest win. And though not everyone went to the same extremes, you can bet that even when the buzz does finally quiet down, no one around here will soon forget just how crazy - and how exciting - these first couple weeks of September have been.

rick.maese@baltsun.com

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