Nov. 19, 2013
Cullowhee, N.C. - Western Carolina head coach Mark Speir took part in the weekly Southern Conference Football Head Coaches' Teleconference on Tuesday morning. Speir talked about loss to Furman in the 2013 home finale before turning all attention to this week's meeting with the archrival Appalachian State Mountaineers in the annual gridiron grudge match.
Kickoff in what could be the final "Battle for the Old Mountain Jug" is scheduled for this Saturday (Nov. 23) at 3:30 pm from Kidd Brewer Stadium in Boone, N.C.
Saturday's game will be broadcast on the Catamount Sports Network with an air time of 2:30 pm across 11 stations and online at CatamountSports.com. Fans can listen to the game locally on WWCU-FM, Power 90dot5 in Cullowhee; 540 AM WRGC in Sylva; 1050 AM WFSC in Franklin; 920 AM WPTL in Canton; 1150 AM WAVO in Charlotte/Rock Hill, S.C.; 1270 AM WCGC in Belmont/Gaston County; on ESPN Radio 1310 & 970 AM in Asheville/Canton; 1600 AM WTZQ in Hendersonville; and on CSN's newest affiliates, Country Legends 550 and 92.9 in Statesville.
"I thought it was a good Southern Conference football game. A battle between two teams that could have gone either way - Furman made more plays than we did," Speir opened his time on the teleconference, referencing last Saturday's 32-20 home loss to the Paladins. "It was a momentum kind of game. We cut it down to a two-point game there in the second half - we had some momentum, and we just couldn't sustain it, and Furman made plays. We had opportunities to go win a ball game and we didn't capitalize, they did. We lost a hard, tough football game. I was proud of our players; I thought they played hard and gave ourselves an opportunity to win a game we just didn't get it done."
He added, "I thought our defense played extremely well - we kept giving them short fields to work with and when you've got a weapon like their kicker; they had four, first half field goals. Our offense just struggled in finding rhythm like we've done a lot this year in the first half."
Speir then turned his focus to this week's game against a very familiar foe - the Appalachian State Mountaineers.
"Always a big ball game here at Western Carolina, playing your rivals for the Old Mountain Jug," said Speir. "These are two very similar North Carolina mountain schools, in the same conference. Being the last time and their last game in the SoCon, it adds extra meaning to this game I believe for both sides. This meeting, because it is the last before they make the jump up to the Sun Belt, will add extra meaning for them as well. It's a big game for our alumni, for these two teams, the players on the field and both schools."
"These are the kind of ball games you go to college to play in," Speir summed up.
Storylines once again abound surrounding Saturday's 78th meeting between Western Carolina and Appalachian State. For the foreseeable future, it represents the final football meeting between the two long-standing, regional and mountain rivals. Back in 1976, the deep-seeded rivalry was personified with the introduction of the traveling trophy, the "Old Mountain Jug." The replica yellow moonshine jug is adorned with both school's athletics logos from the time on opposite sides and is awarded to the winner of the football game annually.
In addition to all of that, five members of WCU's coaching staff have direct ties to ASU and the Mountaineers' success during the 2000's that has helped prompt their move to the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) level. And Saturday represents their first return to Boone on the opposing sideline.
Speir spent nine seasons on staff in Boone, coordinating the Mountaineer recruiting efforts for several of those seasons. When he returned to Cullowhee where his coaching career began, his recruiting continued as he brought four of App's assistant coaches with him.
Catamount offensive coordinator, Brad Glenn, was also a large part of ASU's success on the coaching staff before coming with Speir to Western Carolina. Three of WCU's current assistants return to their alma mater this weekend as Catamount coaches John Holt (offensive line), Trey Elder (wide receivers) and Pat Mills (tight ends) all played on the other side of the rivalry for the Black & Gold.
In a season that has seen several ominous streaks come to a close, Western Carolina (2-9, 1-6 SoCon) has one more opportunity to snap several daunting skids. WCU has not won a game away from Cullowhee since 2010 - a stretch of 20-straight road losses. The Catamounts have dropped eight-consecutive games in the series with ASU and have not won in Boone since 1984 - a string of 14-straight road defeats.
Both teams enter Saturday's game with records below the .500 mark. The last time Appalachian State came into the "Battle for the Old Mountain Jug" with a record below .500 was in 1993 when the 2-7 Mountaineers claimed a 20-16 win in Boone over the then 6-3 Catamounts. You have to go back to the 1990 season to find the last time BOTH teams came into the rivalry week with sub-.500 records - WCU was 3-4 while ASU was 2-4 entering the earlier Oct. 20 meeting which ASU won, 27-9.
Prior to '90, the last time the teams both entered their regular season finale meeting under .500 was in the 1981 season - WCU was 3-7 overall while ASU was 3-6-1 overall, riding a string of seven-straight winless weeks. WCU claimed that game in '81, 21-10.
Kickoff of Saturday's regular season finale is scheduled for 3:30 pm.
Here is an excerpt of quotes from Tuesday's teleconference:
Western Carolina head football coach Mark Speir:
On facing Appalachian State:
"They're a lot like this last team we just played, Furman. They struggled with trying to find a quarterback that they were going to go with; installing a new defense that was completely something new for those defensive guys. Here the second half of the season, they have really looked like the Appalachian State team that everybody in the Southern Conference knows and is accustomed to."
"They've got the best receiving corps probably in the country at this level. And Marcus Cox, their freshman running back - they've really found a special guy in Marcus. They're very athletic on defense - they've got athletes all over the field. It's going to be a huge, monumental task, but we're excited about it."
On whether or not the WCU-ASU series will continue:
"Probably the biggest hurdle as far as us playing App in the near future is that we have to play money games. This year, we played three FBS teams; we're going to play two next year for our budget. You go down and you play an Auburn for half a million dollars; is Appalachian going to be in a position to pay that kind of dollars. Conventional wisdom says, `no, not right now.' So, it's a financial deal as much as anything."
"Obviously we'd want to go play App because of the rivalry, because it's an easy trip as far as logistics. You're not hopping on an airplane and spending half the money you're making in a big game to play it. I think a lot of that will be answered with what these five major conferences do. But it all boils down to if you're playing one FBS school, for us we want to go make as much money as possible. If App's able to pay relative to that, it's a no-brainer."
On how much he feels his team has improved:
"I think we've improved leaps and bounds. What every head coach has told me before and after games is we're so much faster; we're just making a lot of freshman and sophomore mistakes. There's nothing like experience. If one sophomore or freshman is messing up, we're replacing him with another freshman or sophomore. We have to be real objective as coaches, but I feel like this year as opposed to last year, we're giving ourselves chances to win. We've been in most every other ballgame, SoCon-wise, with opportunities to go win it - we just didn't make plays when we had to."
"I'm proud of our guys; they're working, they're practicing hard every week. They're competing every week in practice, and they're learning how to become college players. I think our team has gotten a lot better. We're still not where we've got to be. I think we're better, but we've got a long road to go. I have to keep telling myself that Rome wasn't built in a day, but I'm very proud of this football team. They're great guys and I love coaching them."
Appalachian State head coach Scott Satterfield:
Looking at Saturday's opponent, Western Carolina:
"We're facing a Western Carolina team that has gotten better and better throughout the whole season. They've lost some close games including Wofford where the lost by four points, played Georgia Southern tough and really played Furman tough last week, holding them to six field goals. Defensively, they're getting better. I think offensively, they're able to score points and move the football."
"I think Coach (Mark) Speir and his staff has done a good job of getting things back on track - their record doesn't indicate exactly where they are right now. But they are headed in the right direction, for sure; certainly they can beat anybody in this conference and in this league."
"It's going to be a great football game here. It's the last game for our seniors and the last game for us in the Southern Conference in the history of the program. So, there's a lot riding on this game and certainly our guys will be ready for it this week."
On the rivalry game, the "Battle for the Old Mountain Jug":
"Western Carolina's been a rival for us - the `Battle for the Old Mountain Jug,' and that's huge for us and what it represents, to be able to keep (the Jug) here."
On what concerns his coaching staff about Western Carolina:
"I think there are a lot of things they do well. Defensively, they're a lot more sound this year. The guys are playing hard; they're aggressive, they're making plays. I think that part of it has been impressive to me. I think offensively, they're going to be able to move the football. You take both quarterbacks, doesn't matter who you put in there, those guys can make plays throwing the football. They've got a receiver that's one of the top receives in the conference. And they're able to run the football. I think the ability of the quarterbacks to run it is huge for them as well. Everyone has to be in their gaps to stop the quarterback run. I just think they're a solid football team all around."
On Western Carolina's quarterbacks:
"Troy Mitchell, who has been their starter throughout the season, is a very talented runner, first and foremost. He can make a lot of things happen with his legs - I think last year, he had several big runs against us. The one thing I think he's struggled with a little bit has been his consistency throwing it, but he has made a lot of big throws. Eddie Sullivan had a big game this past week. He came in off the bench and threw for close to 250 yards and really sparked their offense. I think he's got big play potential as well. He can make things happen with his feet. In the passing game, he's able to scramble around and find guys that are open, extend the play."
"I think for them, they just want more consistency at quarterback. They're probably trying to find out who's going to be that guy and be most consistent, either Mitchell or Sullivan. I would anticipate that both guys will play against us, and whoever's got the hot hand will probably be who they end up going with."
On whether or not this will be the final meeting between WCU and ASU:
"I don't know. I think, down the road at some point in time you hope that we'd be able to play (WCU). I think with the way we've got our schedules set out in the future with the chance to play one FCS opponent per year to get a home game. There's a chance as we look ahead to the future that we could put Western on the schedule. They're very close to us, a rival game that we've been playing for many years; you'd hate to see it just go away. So hopefully we'd be able to work something out in the future to be able to get those guys here - maybe not on a yearly basis, but maybe once every few years."