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App State making run at second straight championship

Mountaineers say growth of home field advantage key to team’s success

    A lot of things go into creating home-field advantage, and whatever it takes, Appalachian State has figured it out.
    The defending national champions have won 26 straight games in the comforts of Kidd Brewer Stadium – also known simply as “The Rock” – where they’ll host No. 4 Youngstown State Saturday in the NCAA Division I Football Championship semifinals (4 p.m., ESPN). The winner earns a spot in the national championship game Dec. 15 at Finley Stadium in Chattanooga, Tenn.
    The Mountaineers’ success at home, said coach Jerry Moore, is something that has grown with the team during the last two years. ASU won its first national crown last December and posted 12 straight victories since losing its season opener to North Carolina State this year. The Mountaineers have won six consecutive playoff games.
    “It’s begun to take off,” Moore said. “Our students have gotten very, very involved, and we’ve catered more to the tailgating and the pre-game stuff. It just carries right over into the game.”
    App State’s support extends well beyond the university, and the school’s recent achievements have whipped the small mountain town into a yellow and black frenzy.
    “Everyone in Boone — just like they did last year — is giving us 100 percent, so we’re going to use that to our advantage,” senior defensive back Jeremy Wiggins said. “We just like playing at home, obviously. We take care of business when we are at home.”
    Senior offensive lineman Matt Isenhour agrees.
    “The atmosphere up here has a lot to do with (the home-field advantage),” he said. “The crowd is good every Saturday. It’s loud, and it’s special to us to play here. We love playing at The Rock. We’ve got something going here, and we try to defend it every Saturday.”
    The Mountaineers (12-1) will put their home-winning steak on the line Saturday against one of the most storied programs in history of I-AA football. Youngstown State (11-2) has four national titles — second only to Georgia Southern’s six — which they won in the 1990s under current Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel.
    The App State/Youngstown winner will face the winner of No. 3 Massachusetts (12-1) and No. 2 Montana (12-1) for the national crown. All four teams won their conferences outright and have at least one national championship.
    “The one underlying thing in every one of these four teams that are left in the playoffs is tradition,” Moore said. “And probably, Youngstown has the richest of all of us because they’ve got four of those trophies.”
    The game will mark ASU’s second-straight appearance in the semifinals, while the Penguins haven’t advanced that far since 1999 when Georgia Southern defeated them, 59-24, in the national championship game. Along with Southern Conference foe ASU, the Eagles also have connections with each of the remaining playoff teams having topped Montana, 27-25, for the I-AA crown in 2000. GSU lost to Massachusetts in the 1998 title game but knocked them off in the second round of the playoffs in 1999.
    YSU enters the game — its first matchup against App State — with a five-game winning streak, its longest since 2000. The 2006 Gateway Conference champion, Youngstown is led by running back Marcus Mason, the nation’s second-leading rusher with 1,726 yards, including 158 in a quarterfinal win over Illinois State.
    Kevin Richardson became Appalachian’s all-time leading scorer and tied a school postseason record with four touchdowns in the Mountaineers’ 38-17 victory over Montana State in the quarterfinals.
    “I know we’ve got great respect for (YSU), and I suspect they do the same for us,” Moore said. “It should be a terrific football game.”

    Alex Pellegrino can be reached at (912) 489-9413.

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