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Historical Eye of the Tiger: Clemson vs. Appalachian State

The Overmountain Men Return to S.C. to Collect a King’s Ransom

Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports

On October 7, 1780, Patriot militiamen from across the Appalachian Mountains' Great Blue Ridge converged on King's Mountain, South Carolina, where they surrounded and savagely defeated a British Loyalist militia force under the universally despised Major Patrick Ferguson. This victory by the "Overmountain Men" proved a major turning point in the American War for Independence, as it galvanized Patriot support among the citizens of the Carolina backcountry, swelled the ranks of the Patriot militia in the region, and ultimately enabled American militia and regular Continental Army troops to confound British General Lord Cornwallis and his "Southern Strategy" to snuff out the American rebellion from the bottom up. For the very freedoms that we will enjoy this weekend as we ourselves converge upon the Upstate to witness our Tigers do battle on the gridiron, we collectively owe a great debt to those "Overmountain Men," a debt which will be repaid not in blood nor tears (of defeat) but rather in the currency of the United States which was itself made possible by those Mountaineers of old. So though they come now as enemy invaders rather than friendly compatriots in a glorious cause, we can take solace in knowing that the King's ransom they'll collect after a brutal defeat (this time) will be full recompense for their noble effort to secure our liberty so long ago at the Battle of King's Mountain.

King's Mountain

Painting by Don Troiani,

Clemson and Appalachian State have met just four times in their history, with the Tigers holding a 4-0 advantage, having outscored the Mountaineers by a combined 145-19, a per game average of roughly 36-5. That constitutes an average whooping of, dare I say, historic proportions. But that was against the Appalachian State of old, they of the FCS Southern Conference; before the 2007 "block heard round the world" at the Big House in Michigan; before even the most casual college football fan or the most athletically ignorant passerby had committed the name "App State" to perpetual memory and popular lore. The new Appalachian State hails from the FBS Sunbelt Conference, sports a seven-game winning streak, and touts itself as the frontrunner for their conference crown and the program's first ever postseason bowl bid. They return twenty starters from a team that finished 7-5 in its first season at the FBS level a year ago, and they march into Clemson's Death Valley looking to prove they belong with the big boys after dispatching of one of the little tykes (Howard University) 49-0 in week one. Unlike the scrappy but outmanned Wofford Terriers of last week, the Mountaineers will bring several skill players with legit FBS credentials into Saturday's duel. Can a young Tiger defense build upon last week's demolition of the triple option by completely switching gears and proving equally adept at stifling App State's spread attack? Or will the upgrade in opponent talent and diversity of scheme frustrate the Tigers' championship aspirations? Can DW4 and the offense maintain its efficiency and precision in route to another rout, or will the Mountaineers put points at a premium and provide the dogfight the never materialized last week?

History says the Tigers will win going away, Sunbelt or no Sunbelt; FBS credentials or not. Clemson is 7-0 all-time against teams currently in the Sunbelt Conference, though four of those are against App State before they joined in 2014. The remaining three victories are more recent, against Louisiana-Monroe in 2007 (49-26), Troy in 2011 (43-19), and Georgia State in 2014 (28-0). In the three games with Sunbelt teams not named Appalachian State, Clemson has succeeded to the victorious tune of 40-15 on average. Add in the four victories with the new-member Mountaineers and that equates to an average score of Tigers 38, Sunburntbelt 9.

In 1984, Danny Ford's Tigers completely dismantled an App St. team commanded by none other than our later friend-of-the-feathered fowl, Sparky Woods, who was in his first year as head coach of the Mountaineers. Sparky's boys scored just once that day thanks to stout defensive work by eventual All-ACC and All-American tackle William "The Refrigerator" Perry (among others). The Tiger offense meanwhile, led by quarterback Mike Eppley, tallied forty points in a 40-7 rout to open the season. The Mountaineers would finish the year unranked in the FCS (then Division 1-AA) at 4-7. Woods would rebound though, compiling an overall record of 38-19-2 with two playoff berths, which was good enough to land him what had to be a dream job (sarcasm font) at football power (just can't turn it off) South Carolina. The '84 Tigers would drop heartbreakers to UGA, GA Tech, and South Carolina, and get "Terped" 41-23 by Maryland to finish the year 7-4 and unranked, but after another down year in 1985, Ford's Tigers would reel off three straight ACC titles, four straight ten-win seasons, and close out the decade and Danny's Tiger career with a 27-7 shellacking of another set of Mountaineers, Don Nehlen and West Virginia, in the 1989 Mazda Gator Bowl.

Young Danny

In 1990, Ken Hatfield's first Tiger team shut out an overmatched App State squad 48-0 in the fourth game of the season. The Tigers rode a strong ground attack led by fullback Howard "Junior" Hall and freshman tailback Ronald Williams, and a suffocating defense led by linebackers Doug Brewster, Ed McDaniel, Levon Kirkland, and Wayne Simmons and defensive tackle Vance Hammond, to complete the rout. Clemson would compile an impressive 10-2 (5-2 ACC) mark for the season, but for Tiger fans frustrated with the loss of Danny Ford, Hatfield's first year at the helm largely disappointed, as the Tigers dropped their only two marquee regular season matchups to #14 Virginia (20-7, the first EVER loss to the Wahoos, against whom Clemson had been 29-0 all-time) and eventual co-national champion #18 GA Tech (21-19). They would rebound behind DeChane Cameron's stellar quarterback play, Terry Smith's emergence at receiver, and a fast, aggressive, and relentless defense to trounce #16 Illinois 30-0 in the Hall of Fame Bowl to close out the year at #9 in the polls.


The following year Hatfield's Tigers again took on App State, and again shut them out, this time 34-0 to begin the season. It was a year in which Clemson again had high hopes that went unfulfilled at 9-2-1 overall, despite returning most of the frequently dominant 1990 defense, as well as the key contributors to a potent option ground attack and controlled passing game led by senior QB DeChane Cameron. Unlike the 1990 team, however, the 1991 Tigers went undefeated (6-0-1) in conference to claim the program's 13th overall ACC crown. The Tigers lost 27-12 to unranked UGA between the hedges, and tied unranked UVA 20-20, but earned a Citrus Bowl Bid as ACC Champions, the elation over which was dampened by an inexplicable 37-13 beat-down at the hand of the California Bears in soggy Orlando, FL to end the year ranked #18 nationally.

Anthony Simmons 1997

In 1997 Tommy West's fourth full season at the helm began inauspiciously with a 23-12 slugfest over Appalachian State. The Tigers entered the year ranked #18 in the polls, but did little against the Mountaineers that engendered much confidence among the Tiger faithful that this team would maintain that exalted national status for long. An equally distressing close call (19-17) against a lowly NC State team the following week was followed up by consecutive losses to powerhouse #5 FSU (35-28) and unranked GA Tech (23-20), which expelled the Tigers from the national polls. In a season filled with unfulfilling victories and heartbreaking defeats, West's Tigers would lose 21-7 at home to unranked UVA, then later 17-10 to unranked UNC, before rallying to beat the rival Gamecocks 47-21 at Billy-Brice. Their seven regular season wins earned a Peach Bowl bid against the Auburn Tigers/War Eagles/Plainsmen, which would prove another heartbreak, as the Tigers lost 21-17 to end the year 7-5 (4-4 ACC) and unranked.

So seasons in which Clemson has scheduled Appalachian State have been forgettable at best, with only the 1991 Tigers claiming a conference championship. It is encouraging, though, that in the two seasons in which Clemson shut out App St., they went on to either double-digit wins and a resounding bowl win (1990), or laid claim to a conference title (1991). And though both of those teams sported defenses worthy of mention among any of the all-time Tiger greats, their offensive units were serviceable but unspectacular. The 2015 Tigers may have lost the talented depth from last year to again compete statistically with those early nineties squads, but they return an offense with almost unprecedented explosive potential. A shut out may be a tall order against an improved Mountaineer program, but a historic rout should be in order, and though it may not be a turning point in a major struggle for liberty and freedom, it may just prove to be a foundation for future fortune come season's end.

So let's send the "Overmountain Men" home to the hills of North Carolina with two long-overdue checks: one for their bank rolls, the other for the egos, with money in their pockets and an "L" on the scoreboard.



Photo by Anderson Independent Mail, 9/22/2001

p.s. Never Forget!