Phillip Adams knows what is at stake today for S.C. State.
The senior cornerback believes the Bulldogs, who play at Appalachian State in the first round of the FCS playoffs for the second consecutive season, cannot let this opportunity slip away.
"Last year was a great experience for us. We fought hard (in a 37-21 loss), but we didn't have enough fight. This year is different," Adams said. "We're excited about another playoff game and a chance to get some respect. We have worked all year in preparation for this moment."
Knocking off the No. 5 Mountaineers would signal to the rest of the FCS that the No. 7 Bulldogs (10-1) are more than a great MEAC team. S.C. State coach Buddy Pough calls winning respect nationally "our big chore."
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The State
The biggest part of that chore will be slowing down Appy State senior quarterback Armanti Edwards, the reigning Walter Payton Award winner.
"If you find anybody who knows the answer, please tell them to call me. He's the most talented player I've ever seen," Pough said.
Edwards has 3,079 yards - 2,504 passing - in nine games this season while leading the Mountaineers offense to 36 points per game and winning the SoCon offensive player of the year for the second consecutive season. He has 13,862 career yards, fifth in the FCS. In last season's victory against S.C. State, he passed for a school-record 433 yards and four touchdowns and rushed for 48 yards and another score.
Adams, an All-MEAC performer who has three interceptions and 11 pass breakups, knows containing Edwards will be key.
"He can kill you with his feet and also with the pass," Adams said. "We have to stay in coverage because you never know while he's scrambling when he'll throw across his body."
Edwards led the Mountaineers to two FCS titles - as well as a legendary victory against Michigan in 2007 - and the national respect Pough wants for his program. He is convinced the Bulldogs have learned the lessons of a year ago.
"Our kids are very, very confident," Pough said. "We are more confident than we were last year."
Appalachian State coach Jerry Moore expects that. He believes having a year of playoff experience can make a difference for any team, but especially for an S.C. State squad that trailed by three points with 7 1/2 minutes to play last season.
"They didn't surprise us at all last year. They were a good football team I made the statement last year: They are extremely well-coached and they play hard," Moore said. "I've looked at every tape they played this year. There is no dropoff. I think they're a better team this year than they were last year."
Moore has similar worries about an S.C. State offense that averages 32 points per game and is guided by junior quarterback Malcolm Long, who has thrown for school records of 2,313 yards and 20 touchdowns.
"He's a playmaker. He's got a great arm. They do a good job of protecting him. They've got a great throwing package," Moore said. "He's a big guy, but I'm going to tell you, he can run the football. They get him out on the corner with some boot(leg)s and stuff like that. He can turn it up the field and run."
Long also has the MEAC's all-time rusher in senior running back Will Ford behind him. Ford believes he and Long can help out not just in scoring point.
"We've got to get first downs and keep Armanti off the field. He's a great player, no doubt about it," Ford said. "We need to have a great game to keep the pressure off our defense."
Pough insists the game will come down to his team's execution against an experienced Appy State defense. But he notes the Bulldogs' preparation is farther along than last season. One thing is certain: He's not going to complain about another tough draw.
"This is the way the playoffs work," he said. "You don't get many easy games."
And just like Adams, Ford is convinced the Bulldogs are ready to do something they didn't a year ago.
"It's a different atmosphere at practice, from the offense to the defense to the special teams to the coaches," Ford said. "We've all got a sense of urgency. We're definitely going for a win and will settle for nothing less. Anything but a win will be a disappointment."