Last Updated on December 22, 2020 5:32 pm
CONWAY, S.C. — A flag for a penalty well behind the play wiped out Marcus Williams Jr.’s 79-yard touchdown run in the third quarter of App State’s bowl matchup with North Texas.
No worries. Camerun Peoples rushed for a 76-yard gain on the very next snap, setting up his fourth of five touchdown runs during a 56-28 victory for the Mountaineers in the inaugural Myrtle Beach Bowl on Monday.
“We found a play that worked,” Williams Jr. said.
“I got in and said, ‘OK, let’s run that play Marcus ran,’ ” Peoples said with a laugh. “That looked good.”
The Mountaineers found a lot of plays that worked and looked good in an ESPN appearance to begin the 2020 bowl schedule.
App State capped a 9-3 season under first-year head coach Shawn Clark and improved its all-time bowl record to an FBS-best 6-0, with each of those wins coming in the program’s first six bowl-eligible years, as Peoples set a school and NCAA bowl record with 319 rushing yards on 23 attempts.
“You play the game to win championships,” Clark said. “A lot of weight off our shoulders to win our sixth bowl game in a row, and that’s something we take a lot of pride in in Boone and our program. Our guys are resilient, and I told our guys we’d be remembered for how we finished this season. We finished it the right way against a very good opponent.”
Fifth-year seniors such as Zac Thomas and Shemar-Jean Charles have helped App State go 52-13 since the start of the 2016 season. For fourth-year seniors like Noah Hannon and Thomas Hennigan, who have started since Day 1 as true freshmen, they’ve been part of 42 wins in 52 games.
With Williams Jr. adding 101 yards and his own long touchdown that counted Monday, App State amassed 502 rushing yards as a team behind a line with Hannon, Ryan Neuzil, Baer Hunter, Cooper Hodges and Anderson Hardy blocking. Peoples had three runs of at least 62 yards in the win.
The previous NCAA single-game bowl record belonged to Georgia Tech's P.J. Daniels, who rushed for 307 yards against Tulsa in the 2003 Humanitarian Bowl. Peoples also broke the school record of 313 yards from Armanti Edwards in a 2007 FCS semifinal win against Richmond while tying the school record for rushing touchdowns in a game, as John Settle posted five against Davidson in 1986.
Peoples also tied six other players, including Barry Sanders, as the only ones to have scored five rushing touchdowns in a bowl game. He arrived at Brooks Stadium needing 193 yards to give App State a 1,000-yard rusher for the ninth straight year — a streak that likely will be the nation’s longest active one at season’s end.
“This is probably one of the most memorable football games I’ve ever played,” Peoples said. “I didn’t realize what I was doing until the fourth quarter.”
The Mountaineers produced 638 yards of total offense with Henry Pearson catching touchdown passes from receiver Malik Williams and Thomas, who improved to 32-6 as a starter.
Defensively, App State benefited from sacks by D’Marco Jackson, Hansky Paillant and Nick Hampton, and Steven Jones returned an interception 63 yards to set up Peoples’ final touchdown. Kaiden Smith recorded a team-high 13 tackles, followed by Trey Cobb and Jackson with 12 apiece and Brendan Harrington with 11.
App State’s offensive explosion included touchdown runs of 70 yards by Williams Jr. and 64 yards by Peoples on the Mountaineers’ last two offensive snaps of the first half.
“They did very well in getting to the second level and giving out one-on-ones with the safeties,” Williams Jr. said of the line. “In the running back room, any time we have a one-on-one, we expect to win it.”
Williams, a senior receiver and former high school quarterback, threw the fourth trick-play touchdown pass of his career — he had two in a 2018 bowl victory against Middle Tennessee — to give App State an early lead. After Thomas threw a backward pass to Williams along the left sideline, Pearson hauled in a 22-yard touchdown.
Peoples capped a 13-play, 90-yard drive with a 3-yard touchdown to push App State’s lead to 14-0 later in the first quarter, and North Texas broke through with a 16-yard touchdown pass early in the second quarter before Pearson scored for the second time on an 11-yard touchdown pass from Thomas.
Immediately after North Texas missed a 47-yard field goal with App State leading 21-7, Williams Jr. sprinted through a big hole created by Pearson and Neuzil.
The Mean Green did answer with a 75-yard touchdown drive to cut its deficit to 28-14 with 27 seconds left before the break, and App State took over at its 36-yard line with 22 seconds remaining and three timeouts at its disposal. With Neuzil and Hardy blocking on the left side, Hunter and Hodges creating a cut-back lane on the right side and Hannon reaching the second level, Peoples broke free for what at the time was the longest run of his career — his two 63-yard runs include a touchdown in the 2018 bowl win.
“That’s the bread and butter of our offense, being able to run the football,” Clark said.
North Texas cut its deficit to 35-21 with 6:14 left in the third quarter, but App State pushed its lead back to 21 points on a 62-yard touchdown run by Peoples. He contributed touchdowns covering 1 and 11 yards in the first six minutes of the fourth quarter.
As the fourth quarter wound down, starters began giving way to backups, with senior Jacob Huesman replacing his classmate and housemate at quarterback to cheers from the partisan crowd of App State fans.
“When we got pulled out in the fourth quarter, it was really just soaking it in,” Jackson said. “You get kind of emotional just knowing, like when we have our meetings, this is the last time with this group, this coaching staff, because you never know who is going to change. It’s just special.”