Maybe not an end to the jug but quite possibly an end to the lopsided competition for it. After the Catamounts play the Mountaineers this Saturday (11/23) the series that started in 1932 might stop for the first time since a short intermission for World War II (1942-1945). Not that Western Carolina has done that well playing Appalachian. We are 18-58-1 in the series but it does feel like we’re losing more than a jug when they move from the Southern Conference to the Sun Belt. Chances are the trophy will rest on a shelf somewhere in Boone gathering dust for many years to come. In my time at Western we never won the trophy so having a home in Boone isn’t a foreign concept to me – it almost feels like that’s where it belongs.
Unfortunately with this our biggest game of the year is disappearing. Maybe we can start playing Elon for an Old Traffic Cone and call it the NC DOT Bowl. We’d stand a better chance of winning the cone and if we didn’t win we could grab one off of I-40 on the way home. Who knows? Maybe we’ll have a miracle in Boone this weekend and the trophy will come back to Cullowhee. It won’t be a traffic cone but it will have more room to breathe in our trophy case. GO CATS!
History of the WCU-ASU Rivalry
When the football teams representing Appalachian State and Western Carolina will lineup for kickoff annually, they renew a rivalry that has been – and will continue to be – one of the finest and most enduring in NCAA Division I-AA football, the State of North Carolina, and the South.
The rivalry had natural origins. Appalachian and Western were the only public colleges in the western half of North Carolina for decades and made similar steps to their present status as comprehensive regional universities. Both basically recruited athletes from the same high schools in the early years and their graduates were, in large part, public school teachers. The alumni of the schools found themselves working together, which helped foster the rivalry.
There have also been enough impact games in the series to stoke the fire of the rivalry, earning Sports Illustrated magazine’s designation in the mid-1980s as “the best football rivalry you’ve never heard of.”
The schools began meeting on the football field back in 1932 and it was all App State in the first 13 meetings as Western only scored five touchdowns in that dismal stretch. The Catamounts finally found the answer in 1949 with a 13-6, streak-snapping win. WCU went on to win the North State Conference championship and received a postseason bowl bid.
The rivalry had its moments in the 1950s and 60s, but was somewhat overshadowed by the dominance of Lenoir-Rhyne, which ruled small college football in the Carolinas in those decades.
There was a strange stretch of games from 1964 through 1971 in which neither team could win at home. Western won four-straight in Boone, while the Mountaineers took four consecutive in Cullowhee.
Western Carolina’s longest string of victories in the series – a modest five-game streak – began in 1971 when, ironically, Appalachian State began playing in the Southern Conference. ASU became WCU’s sponsor for conference membership, but it took six more years for the Catamounts to join its arch-rival in the SoCon.
An incident related to WCU’s quest for Southern Conference membership occurred during the 1974 season that threw gasoline on the fires of the rivalry. Appalachian State officials informed Dr. H. F. Robinson, WCU’s Chancellor, and Bob Waters, the athletics director and head football coach for Western, that if Jerry Gaines, the Catamounts’ all-star wide receiver/kick returner – and arguably the school’s best athlete ever – were allowed to play in the WCU-ASU football game in Boone, ASU would withdraw their support of Western’s membership for the Southern Conference.
The premise was that Gaines was playing in 1974 season as a fifth-year medical red-shirt and red-shirting was not permitted in the Southern Conference. Gaines was injured in the first half of the second game of the 1971 season, incidentally against Appalachian State. Catamount fans believed Appalachian State’s motive was based upon Gaines’ performance in the previous two meetings in the series, both won handily by Western.
Gaines did not play in 1974, but his replacement, true-freshman Wayne Tolleson, caught what proved to be the winning touchdown pass in a 21-17 Catamount victory.
The old cliché “you can throw away records in this one” always applies to rivalry games and rang to its truest in the 1975 meeting in Cullowhee. The Catamounts were having a miserable 2-7 season and had been humiliated the week before by Furman, 34-0. On that same Saturday, Appalachian had pulled off perhaps its biggest upset ever in a defeat of the University of South Carolina in Columbia, and arrived in Whitmire Stadium with an overall mark of 7-2. The Asheville Citizen-Times said the Mountaineers were favored “by the temperature at kickoff,” which was predicted to be 62 degrees. The Catamounts supplied perhaps the biggest shocker in the series history with a 20-11 upset win for hits fifth-consecutive victory in the rivalry.
The rivalry was personified and renewed with the creation of the “Old Mountain Jug” in 1976. The theme was devised by the Western Carolina and Appalachian State sports information directors and promoted by the student government associations of both schools. The trophy – a representation of an old moonshine jug commonly used by bootleggers in the mountains of western North Carolina – is graced on either side with each school’s respective logo from that 1976 year.
The first Old Mountain Jug was presented after the 1976 game played in Boone, where it stayed for a year after the 24-17 ASU victory in the “new” rivalry.
The remaining meetings in the 1970s were memorable for a variety of reasons. The 1977 game, won by Western, was the first played in the series as a Southern Conference game, as WCU finally received admittance to the league. It also marked WCU’s first victory of the trophy in the series. The Mountaineers came to Cullowhee in 1978 and knocked the Cats’ out of the conference championship before an ABC-TV regional television audience. In 1979, Western and App played the second football game ever televised by ESPN in Boone.
After losing three Old Mountain Jug games in a row from 1978-80, the Catamounts put together a four-game winning streak. The most significant came in 1983 when Western clinched a bid to the NCAA I-AA playoffs with a 41-15 rout of the Mountaineers in Cullowhee. WCU went on to play for the I-AA National Championship.
“The Streak” – the string of 13 consecutive Appalachian State wins from 1985 – 1997 – was marked by the outstanding play of ASU teams that won four conference championships and seven that advanced to the I-AA playoffs. It also included a string of near-misses by WCU squads.
In the 1986 game, Western’s captains messed up the coin-toss resulting in the Catamounts having to kickoff to start each half. ASU scored 10 points off great field positions following those kicks in a 17-13 win. The 1992 Cats would have claimed an automatic I-AA playoff bid with a win in Boone, but a pair of missed conversions and a blocked field goal led to a 14-12 defeat in the first of three-consecutive agonizing Western losses in the rivalry.
The next season, Western Carolina led 14-0 in the first quarter, but the Mountaineers rallied for a 20-16 victory. Over 15,000 fans overflowed E. J. Whitmire Stadium for the ’94 game as WCU’s frustration continued. Appalachian State completed a 95-yard pass play out of their own end zone on a third-and-seven play on the last play of the third quarter to setup the winning score in a 12-7 thriller.
Catamount fans rejoiced the end of “the Streak” six years ago by bringing down the Whitmire Stadium goal posts following the Catamounts’ dominating defensive – yet still unlikely – 23-6 win over the playoff-bound Mountaineers.
From 1998-2003, the Mountaineers won five-straight, but in the Battle for the Old Mountain Jug fashion, the past four of those five were settled by 10-or-fewer points. In 2001, Appalachian raced to a big first half lead only to see the Cats rally in the second half. A late interception by ASU in the end zone killed the Western’s thoughts of a comeback victory.
And in 2003, Appalachian State scored 14 of its 26 points off of Western turnovers – while overcoming six fumbles of their own – en route to the 26-18 victory in Boone, retaining the Jug for another season.
Then, in 2004, one of the most memorable “Battles for the Old Mountain Jug” took place in front of 14,714 – the second-largest crowd ever in Cullowhee – the newly expanded E.J. Whitmire Stadium. Reserve quarterback Justin Clark completed all five of his pass attempts, two for touchdowns, to lead an 11-point comeback that will go down in the record books as one of the greatest in this rivalry’s history. A combined total of 45 points were scored in the game’s final 23 minutes with Western ending the five-game skid to ASU.
The Appalachian State – Western Carolina rivalry is just one of the many that have helped make college football the classic American spectacle that it became in the last century, and hopefully, will continue to be in our ever-changing society.