Appalachian State coach Jerry Moore has been sizing up the teams in recent I-AA national championship games while attending as a fan.
This year he brought along his team - and he'll be much more than a fan tonight in Chattanooga, Tenn.
The Mountaineers (11-3) face Northern Iowa (11-3) in the first title-game appearance for both teams.
"I've been coming here watching this championship game for seven or eight years, and I sit up there in the stands and say `We can beat those guys,' " Moore said yesterday. "This is the first time we've had a chance to beat those guys."
Both teams reached the championship after dramatic victories last weekend. Mountaineers backup quarterback Trey Elder had a 1-yard touchdown run, and Appalachian State held on to beat Furman, 29-23.
Elder replaced starter Richie Williams, who strained a tendon in his left ankle in the first quarter. Elder will start tonight unless Williams' ankle improves by game time, Moore said.
"It's the national championship game, of course I want to play," said Williams, a senior and the Southern Conference Offensive Player of the Year. "Right now, I couldn't tell you exactly where I am in the healing process, but it's progressing."
Williams ran for 1,009 yards and five touchdowns this season and was 201-for-312 for 2,680 yards passing with four interceptions and 20 touchdown passes.
Northern Iowa beat Texas State, 40-37, in overtime. Matt Tharp sealed it with an interception after Brian Wingert kicked a 25-yard field goal.
Northern Iowa had lost all five previous times it reached the semifinals, starting in 1985, when coach Mark Farley was a linebacker for the Panthers. He received a congratulatory message from former Panthers quarterback Kurt Warner, who went on to become a two-time NFL MVP with the St. Louis Rams and now plays for the Arizona Cardinals.