By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director
Boone, NC (Sports Network) - Jabari Fletcher sat down at a table for a postgame press conference and leaned into a microphone.
"Mike check," Appalachian State's senior defensive end said unsolicited.
He turned to another microphone and leaned into that one.
"Mike check," said Fletcher, who's basically a little kid trapped in a 265- pound body.
The microphones all tested well for the camera crews. The All-America senior's comedic work throughout the press conference was surpassed only by his work in the Elon backfield. And for the No. 1-ranked Mountaineers, they passed one of their biggest tests of the Southern Conference season, a 34-31 victory on Saturday over a game Phoenix squad that still ended up being frustrated in this one-side series.
"It's easy to say this now, we probably needed a game like that," veteran head coach Jerry Moore said after App State improved to 5-0 overall and remained atop the SoCon with a 3-0 record. "You're pushed right to the wire, (so) you've got to execute. I think we learn a lot from it."
"In the big picture, in the long run," Fletcher said, "it shows our team that when it really comes time to play, especially when we get to the playoffs, that we can't have as many penalties as we had (12 for 116 yards). Penalties can be a big difference in the ballgame. It also taught us as we always been, a hard-working team and always finishing - a bend-but-don't break attitude.
"It was a great game, a physical team. The better team won," added Fletcher, who in the middle of the press conference tried to charm his way into getting credited with three sacks, instead of two, because he came in late on another one. He still had three tackles for losses.
Elon (2-4, 1-2), a playoff team last season whose hopes have faded, was at a loss to stop App State quarterback DeAndre Presley. For much of the game, Presley and Elon All-America Scott Riddle waged a game of you-top-this with big offensive plays.
Presley completed 14-of-19 passes for 204 yards and his ninth touchdown toss without an interception this season. He was even better with his feet, outracing defenders for a career-high 170 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries.
Riddle was scintillating as well, completing 31-of-43 passes for 394 yards and four touchdowns, including three to favorite target Aaron Mellette. The SoCon's all-time leading passer added 43 yards of scrambles to outgain Presley in total offense, 437 yards to 374.
But Presley got the win. Maybe a headache, too, as he was knocked from the game in the late stages while App State was running out the clock after Riddle's 17-yard touchdown pass to Sean Jeffcoat pulled Elon within 34-31 with 3:50 left.
The hit on Presley drew the ire of App State players.
"It's just unnecessary," wide receiver Coco Hillary said. "Elon and ourselves, two prestigious teams in the SoCon and stuff like that doesn't have to be tolerated."
"In my opinion, it's funny how everybody else, you know, 30,000 people, can see a late hit," Fletcher said. "However, the people in the zebra's jerseys cannot see it. I think referees should have an eye test, check their vision."
Moore said he doesn't believe Presley will have any long-term effects from the head injury. Presley will be re-evaluated on Sunday.
"I think he's fine," Moore said. "The bad things about that is we had a rash of these kinds of injuries early in two-a-days and a guy would think he was OK and then the next morning he would come in and he'd have a headache. But right now, I talked to him in the locker room and he was fine, just like always."
The record crowd of 31,531 on Homecoming Day at Conrad/Kidd Brewer Stadium - The Rock, to most - watched as App State beat Elon for the 15th straight time and pushed its conference winning streak to 23 - the longest run in all of FCS.
In a game with 981 offensive yards, points did not come cheaply. There was only one turnover (an App State fumble) and every scoring drive went for at least 60 yards.
App State chewed up yardage with five touchdown drives that ranged from 67 to 87 yards. The shortest one was the final one, which provided the winning cushion and, ironically, took up the most time, 4 minutes, 49 seconds.
The Mountaineers capped the nine-play drive when Presley hit Hillary with a pass at the Elon 5-yard line, and Hillary circled back out and around cornerback Ronnie Hardison to go in with a 13-yard reception to make it 34-24 with 13:37 left in the fourth quarter.
Elon's ensuing drive ended with Adam Shreiner missing a 45-yard field-goal attempt with 9:36 left. But Riddle remained unfazed, taking the Phoenix on yet another long drive and finishing it with his final touchdown pass to Jeffcoat, who beat App State free safety Dominique McDuffie to the pylon with 3:50 left and cut the Phoenix's deficit to 34-31.
App State, however, took the following kickoff and never gave up the ball again. The Mountaineers reached 5-0 for the first time since 1998.
"They find a way to win," Elon defensive end Brandon Ward lamented.
One of the pivotal moments came on Elon's drive that opened the second half. The Phoenix, down 20-17, drove from their 12 to the App State 6 before coach Pete Lembo decided against trying a game-tying field goal. Instead the Phoenix went for it on 4th-and goal and Fletcher hit Riddle as he threw the ball and the pass fell short of Mellette, which gave possession to the Mountaineers.
"We have only made one field goal from the right hash all year," Lembo said, "and there was no question in my mind to go for it."
Presley kept App State's ensuing drive alive by converting a fourth down at the Elon 45 with a 1-yard keeper. On the next play, he called his own number again and raced 44 yards for his second touchdown of the game and a 27-17 Mountaineers' lead with 5:05 left in the third quarter.
He also went untouched for a career-best 53 yards and a touchdown in the second quarter.
"Armanti Edwards was the master of that," Hillary said of App State's show- stopping quarterback of the past four years. "He had a great guy to learn from. He's really doing some of those same things."
App State plays three of its final five SoCon game at The Rock and finishes up the regular season with a visit to the University of Florida. Indeed, the camera crews will be back for Jabari Fletcher to give them some more mike checks.