It didn’t seem like a good sign that the pre-game show on the radio was urging fans to come out and see a really great Appalachian State team (hereafter abbreviated AS to save my fingers). Yes, this was one of the better teams in the conference. Compounding matters, Aggie quarterback, Tyler Rogers, after his stellar performance last week, had been injured during practice and was a late scratch from starting this game. So, we weren’t looking for a “W” this week.
It was a lot nicer Saturday than last weekend. Though overcast, it was warmer with just a light breeze. The Aggies were coming off a good win, and there was no competition from any high school games. This all might have helped attendance, but unfortunately the calendar may have kept fans away. This was the weekend following Thanksgiving and the students and many families were likely out of town. That this week’s opponent was expected to win easily, even without knowing that the starting quarterback was out, might have also dampened some enthusiasm for the game.
Ron wasn’t expecting a win, but we were going anyway. This time we were prepared with jackets for the cold. The Softball team was again handing out programs at the entrance, but it was a different group of girls. I didn’t recognize any of them and didn’t attempt any conversation this time. We’ll just hope they’re doing an autograph session during their season. It was Senior Day, being the last home game of the season. As we arrived, the senior players were being introduced on field with their families and friends. I just saw the last player, who was brought out by the coaches’ wife, Vicki (as stated in the program). That was sweet of her.
There was a somewhat sparse crowd inside. There weren’t even any ushers at the different sections, which pretty much meant you could have sat wherever there was an unsold seat. We ended up sitting about where we did last time in the upper bowl. Though were plenty seats available, we ended up crammed together with several senior citizens, who were apparently long-time regulars at these football games. Another thing that wasn’t there was the girl with the cinnamon roasted nuts. This was bad. Not only was I looking forward to another little sack full of sweet tasty almonds, I was planning on getting a couple for out-of-state relatives for Christmas. Crap. It was going to be such a pleasant, unique local gift.
I left my radio earplugs out and listened to the Pride band give a great performance before the game. There were some kids on the sidelines, dancing along with the Sundancers on the field. The Appalachian State Mountaineers were introduced first. There was a small, but vocal contingent of their fans seated in what was usually the student section. They were the only ones there. Before the Aggies came out, Pistol Pete’s horse became antsy. He knew it was time to perform. After a short countdown, Pete, his horse, and the team charged out on to the field.
The Mountaineers received the opening kickoff. On their second play, they broke off about a 50 yard rush to the Aggie 2. The crowd collectively gulped. However, the Aggie defense held and limited AS to a field goal. Whew. 3-0 AS. Nick Jeanty was in as the Aggie quarterback. He’d started many of the games last season when Tyler Rogers was injured then too. It was a three and out with no progress. Payton Theisler made another great rugby-style punt to put AS deep in their own territory.
I could see Pistol Pete working the crowd in the lower bowl. The roving concessions were selling hot chocolate and lemonade this time. The Mountaineers first play was a 30 yard rush. A pass following that put them on the Aggie 9. Again, the Aggies kept them back for three downs, but they went for it on 4th down on the goal line and made it. 10-0 AS. The Aggies go three and out. There’s a bad snap on the punt which only makes it out to the Aggie 40. The Mountaineers score on the next play. 17-0 AS.
Ron turned to me, “You think they’ll make it to 100?” “We may be part of history,” I replied. Jack Nixon and Preston Williams were rather subdued on the radio for the game. They spent a good deal of time discussing their Thanksgiving meals at one point. With the on-field action waning, I noticed Coach Doug Martin’s wife was out roving on the sidelines. Well, she seems to be rather attractive, if not outright hot. Perhaps I’m not angling for the coach to get booted at the end of the season.
The Aggies go three and out. In three series in the first quarter, the team will end up with 0 yards of offense. They didn’t advance the ball a single yard on their possessions. All their plays lost yardage or only made it back to the line of scrimmage. Wait, what’s this? An attractive blonde producer for Aggievision showed up in our section and handed everybody coupons for free What-A-Burgers. Hey, showing up here suddenly just paid off. She asks everyone to make a “Guns Up” sign for the camera later. No problem. On field (and less interesting and less attractive), AS got the ball back. They drove into Aggie territory and made a 4th and 2 to end the quarter.
The stadium lights come on. Though early, it’s getting dark with the cloud cover. A fan misses a 15 yard kick for money in between quarters. The pretty blonde producer walked him out to the field. She’s hustling out there. The Aggies keep the Mountaineers out of the endzone, and the field goal attempt is missed. The Aggies take over with a new quarterback, Conner Cramer. Unfortunately, it’s still a three and out. I find myself watching the pretty blonde Aggie trainer on the sidelines. I’d seen her last game running out on field to tend to injured players. She’s watching the game closely obviously.
The blonde producer on the sidelines points up to us, telling us to be ready during the challenged call on the field. She’s watching the game too and rooting for the team. The Aggies hold off another AS series, stopping them on another 4th down attempt. It’s our moment! Our section goes “Guns Up” as we end up on the video board for a What-A-Burger promo. Back to the game, Cramer takes a late hit on a QB keeper. It’s a penalty and the first Aggie first down of the game. The Mountaineer player was also ejected for targeting. Xavier Hall then rushed for a first, and Cramer rushed for another first. The Aggies were in the red zone. Unfortunately, there’s a twice-tipped ball in the endzone that results in a Mountaineer interception.
I noticed an injured player was hobbling around on the sidelines. The pretty trainer followed him around for a while, before he finally gave in and got on the table to get his ankle tapped up. The cheerleaders now have jackets on, as it’s a bit cooler. AS had the ball, but the Aggies forced a fumble at midfield. On the next play, Cramer, after a great scramble, connected with Tyrian Taylor for a 50 yard touchdown strike. 17-7 AS, and at least the Aggies won’t be shutout. The cheerleaders come over to the crowd around midfield and started throwing little footballs to them. One of the girls, perhaps unsure of her arm, handed her ball to a player to throw.
AS got the ball back and marched down field. In the red zone, there’s a sack, which forced the Mountaineers to try a field goal, which was successful. 20-7 AS. Aggies got the ball back with little time on the clock. The drive didn’t go anywhere before the half ended, but Cramer did layout a good block for Larry Rose III rushing. During this quarter, I noticed my old boss going down the stairwell. I caught him when he came back up to say, “Hello.” I was also able on congratulate him as I’d noticed looking at the roster last week, that his son, Brett Kowalski, is playing on the team. I remember sitting for him once and playing cars on the floor with him when he was a little kid. They grow up so fast.
The senior band members were introduced on field with their friends and family. Two French horn players were graduating. The whole French horn section was with them and marched in formation behind them. A tuba player was introduced. Behind him on the other side of the field, the other tuba players charged out on to the field and started dancing. The band started their performance a little late. I could see a Sun Belt official in a vest below us enjoying the show, so I’ll guess it met with conference approval. As halftime started winding down, the players started to take the field. The marching band refused to yield. The band actually won that contest and finished their set. The players had to wait to start practicing and warming up.
The Aggies received the kickoff. It was another three and out. This one could have been much worse as there was a bad snap and a bad throw on one of the downs. AS didn’t get a first down, for a seeming three and out of their own, until the punter ended up running for it on a fake. The crowd collectively groaned. Even I kind of saw that coming. The Aggie defense held them to a field goal. 23-7 AS.
The Aggies got the ball back. They go for it on 4th down on the AS 40, but turn it over on downs. I rushed to the bathroom finally, and picked up a hot chocolate at the concessions. It was $3, a relative bargain for stadium food and tasted good too. The Mountaineers punted on their possession. Pinned deep in their own territory, Cramer went for a bomb on third down from his own endzone, and it was intercepted at midfield. AS got a big rush on a third and long to take them inside the Aggie 10. Their quarterback took it in himself for the touchdown.
[Edit: So I'm watching a Mexico sports show Sunday night after writing this to find out who won the F1 championship. They're doing a top 10 list of plays of the weekend. That interception was like #4 on the list. I did a double take as it came up on screen. I didn't think it was that great a play, much less internationally awesome. Last year, when the Aggies got an interception that was caught between the guy's ankles, now that was awesome.]
The crowd began to desert. I found myself looking more at the women on the sidelines than the guys on the field, trying to get some value out of the game. Pistol Pete, who’d been leading the cheering on the sidelines during the last series, seemed a bit apologetic. He came up into the crowd again. Maybe he was actually apologizing. Several of the senior citizens around us started to leave, saying “See you next year,” to each other. “Where else am I going to go to?” answered one of them. Ah, the doomed resignation of committed New Mexico State Aggie football fans.
The Aggies went three and out on their next possession. In other news, the sun set in the west. At least things were moving along quickly, like the Mountaineer quarterback going for 40 yards and a TD on a keeper on the next series. 37-7 AP. There was some heavy promotion at the stadium of the basketball double header next week at the stadium. The women and the men’s teams will be playing. I’ll be at work. I felt like a dope not going to their first DH a couple of weeks ago on Veteran’s Day when I could have gone.
Me and Ron meet another co-worker who had been sitting in a nearby section the whole time. Her and her husband had season tickets in the lower bowl, but moved up to the upper bowl, since it seemed kind of deserted. At the south endzone, Striking the Wonder and his human were resting on the promotional couch. He hadn’t had much to do during the game retrieving kicking tees. Oh, it would have been nice to have had a warm pet in my lap last week. Actually, it’d be nice anytime.
Oh, yeah. The game. Aggies got the ball and end up punting. At least they’ve gotten better about false starts since last week. AP ball. On one play, their quarterback turned around and handed off to the wrong side and missed the running back. There’s a turnover on downs. The Aggies moved downfield, mostly on Cramer’s legs. Turnover on downs inside the AP 10. The Mountaineers assume the victory formation to end the game. Thank you Appalachian State for not running up the score and not dragging out the game. The Aggies didn’t play badly against a good opponent and didn’t beat themselves at least. They were missing Tyler Rogers and some other players were lost during the game. Connor Cramer certainly showed some promise.
The Mountaineers celebrated on field. They’d won a share of the conference championship, I think. It was complicated as described over the radio and I didn’t care. Their fans celebrated in the stands. The Pride band was still playing as we left. I don’t think they wanted to leave. The fans around us pledged to return next year, though it was contingent on ticket prices not getting raised next year. The pre-game show had an interview with Athletic Director Mario Moccia. He made the case that they’d made sure that there were always value seats available for any casual fan who wanted to come to an Aggie sporting event. This is good, but don’t do that on the backs of regular fans who want decent seats. He wished for a budget that allowed them to do more promotions to draw in more people who aren’t necessarily sports fans. Good point, but a winning program is always the best sports promotion.
Outside the stadium, flocks of birds were chirping away. They must have been Appalachian State fans. Traitor birds! The free What-A-Burgers after the game were delicious. The back of a previous football ticket had a two-for-one coupon for Caliches frozen custard, which was also delicious. Thank you NMSU sponsors for those two promotions. The Aggie football team was 2 and 2 in games me and Ron attended this year. (We actually only missed one home game, which was a dramatic double OT win.) Unfortunately, they lost all their games on the road (one game still pending). Amazingly, Ron, who mopes and complains about the team, seems to be committed to going back next year. This might be a sign he and the rest of the hardcore fans need to be committed. It’s very strange, but I’m still willing to go myself. See you next year.