By Paul T. Choate
Sept. 8, 2012. I remember last season, attending home football games as a senior at App State, I was lucky if I found a place to sit anywhere in the stadium. Tonight, I got one of the best seats in the house for the very first time.
For the record, ASU downed Montana 35-27 in a thrilling matchup between two Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) powerhouses and avenged their 24-17 loss against the Grizzlies in the FCS semifinals on Dec. 12, 2009. Every media outlet around will have that story tomorrow. For me, however, on a personal level, there is another story. This was my first time ever getting to cover my beloved Alma mater from the Kidd Brewer Stadium press box as a young reporter. I am going to chronicle the experience in this story. Fair warning, this is not meant to read like a “news” story and I do not plan on being objective. I am a die-hard Mountaineers fan through-and-through and this is meant to read like a blog. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I’m going to enjoy writing it.
My anticipation had been building all week. My publisher, Ken Ketchie, told me he could get me media credentials for the game if I wanted to go and I jumped at the opportunity. Basketball is my favorite sport, but anyone who went to ASU knows that Mountaineer football is something close to a religion. I was instructed earlier this week to go to Will Call to pick up my media pass. Arriving at the stadium, I had no idea where this “Will Call” was located.
I asked the first person who looked like they might know and, of course, they directed me to the wrong gate.
I walked over to where I was directed and upon seeing “Visitor Will Call” I immediately knew I was not in the right place, so I asked an event staff member, “Where is the home Will Call?”
I was directed down to the ticket plaza. I located the home Will Call and received my first ever ASU media pass. Even before the lady handed it to me through the glass I saw “Paul Choate – High Country Press” laying on her desk and immediately filled with excitement.
Armed with my media pass around my neck I headed for the nearest entrance into the stadium. The gatekeeper ushered me through like royalty – no checking my pockets (which only contained my wallet and cell phone), no checking my book bag (which only contained my laptop, a pen and a notepad), nothing. I felt like a king.
I walked through the crowded concession area and saw the doors leading to the elevators that go up to the administrative offices and press area. I had walked by these doors many times as an ASU student attending football games but never thought I would actually walk through them.
I stepped into the elevator and, to my surprise, there was actually a young woman in the elevator who asked me what floor I wanted to go to so she could press the button. Having been told earlier that the press box was on the seventh floor I confidently said “seventh floor,” feeling increasingly awesome.
Ding. The elevator stopped on the top floor. An automated voice even said “seventh floor.” Is this really happening? I stepped out, looking around for a gold-plated door that said “Press Box.”
There is no gold-plated door, I assure you. I finally found the door labeled “Press Room” and went inside. Reporters were everywhere with their laptops and smartphones out. At first, I thought I could just sit anywhere. I found an empty seat and started to sit down. I then realized the vacant spot had a piece of paper with a name and news outlet on it taped to the table.
I was no longer royalty. I was a greenhorn who had no idea what to do or where to sit.
After walking around aimlessly for a few minutes I finally found a seat that said “Paul Choate – High Country Press.” I would later discover that when you walk into the press room there is a seating chart that tells you exactly where you have been assigned to set up. Noted.
Finally, I was settled. The game was about to begin.
Within the first three minutes of the game, Montana converted on a touchdown with a pass from Trent McKinney to Gavin Hagfors and the score was 7-0. Apparently, ASU didn’t appreciate that very much.
Before the first quarter was complete, ASU had taken a 21-7 lead, first on a 32-yard pass from Jamal Jackson to Sean Price for a touchdown, followed by two rushing touchdowns from Steven Miller and Jamal Jackson. The crowd, all 30,856 in attendance (third most all time), was going wild.
Early in the second quarter McKinney rushed for 10 yards to make it 21-14 after the point after touchdown (PAT) kick. The rest of the second quarter went back and forth and it appeared the Mountaineers would take a lead into the half. However, with 35 seconds left on the clock, McKinney completed a seven-yard pass to Sam Gratton for a touchdown to knot the game at 21 going into the half after the PAT.
I’m not exactly sure what happened during halftime because apparently Papa John’s delivers pizza to media members at the half in the break room. Three slices of pizza later I was starting to feel like football royalty again and the second half was about to begin.
The third quarter was nothing but back and forth with neither team scoring. I won’t get into the finer details of who had how many yards, but suffice to say it was kind of a yawner. It gave me time to shamelessly publish some press box pictures to Facebook.
The fourth quarter was the polar opposite of the third. I was on the edge of my seat from start to finish. With 13:03 remaining in the game, Jackson completed a 25-yard pass to Andrew Peacock for a touchdown. The crowd went wild. Chants of “App” from one side and “State” from the other echoed through Kidd Brewer Stadium. The score was 28-21 after the PAT and, with the pass, Jackson improved on his record of consecutive games passing over 200 yards (he finished with 260 yards, good for nine games in a row passing for over 200 and improving on a school record he already set).
ASU fans had a panic-moment at the 8:54 mark. Montana’s Dan Moore received a pass and ran for an 87-yard total completion for a touchdown to make it 28-27. It looked as though ASU would be facing a tied game but, in a shocker, Montana kicker Chris Lider missed the PAT.
With the score 28-27, ASU turned up the heat. With 5:05 remaining, Steven Miller rushed for two yards for a touchdown. Kicker Drew Stewart drilled the PAT to make it 35-27.
Montana took over at the 5:05 mark and ultimately McKinney threw an interception to ASU’s Patrick Blalock. After a three-and-out by ASU, Montana took over again and began their last stand at the 4:24 mark.
After several heart-stopping moments, Montana made it to ASU’s 42 yard line. With less than a minute to go, Montana’s McKinney hurled a pass toward the end zone and every fan in the stadium – Montana’s and ASU’s alike – held their breath.
Demetrius McCray leaped and intercepted the ball to seal Montana’s fate.
As a journalist, I am trained to be objective. Throughout the whole game I had been statue-like. When McCray intercepted that ball I lost it.
Throwing both hands in the air I yelled “Yes!” much to the amusement of the more seasoned reporters sitting around me. I knew it was over. I knew ASU had pulled it off. I knew people from the likes of ESPN were staring at me. And I didn’t care.
My beloved Mountaineers avenged their FCS semifinals loss from 2009 and defeated Montana 35-27.
At a press conference after the game I walked up to Head Coach Jerry Moore after questions and said, “Coach Moore, this was my first time covering a game as a member of the press and I just want to thank you for making it a win.”
He looked at me, grinned, and said, “Well, good!”
And good it was. Go Mountaineers!