CONWAY, S.C. – Camerun Peoples and Appalachian State began college football’s virus-impacted bowl season with a record-breaking show at the Myrtle Beach Bowl on Monday.
Peoples ran for a bowl-record 317 yards and tied another mark with five rushing touchdowns to lead the Mountaineers past North Texas 56-28.
“This is probably one of the most memorable football games I've ever played,” Peoples said.
The sophomore surpassed the 307 yards rushing of Georgia Tech's PJ Daniels in the 2004 Humanitarian Bowl. Peoples also became the seventh player to run for that many scores in a bowl game, a list that includes Oklahoma State's Barry Sanders and Toledo's Kareem Hunt, as the Mountaineers (9-3) remained a perfect 6-0 in bowls since joining the Sun Belt Conference in 2014.
Peoples wasn't aware he was close to those milestones.
He was told on the sideline in the fourth quarter he was nearing 300 yards and the rushing marks for Appalachian State and a bowl game. Peoples looked at coach Shawn Clark.
“Coach Clark said, ‘Yeah, you’re not coming out of the game,'” said Peoples, named the inaugural bowl's MVP.
North Texas (4-6) of Conference USA fell behind 28-7 and had no answer for Peoples or the App State rushing game, which finished with 500 yards.
It was a powerful performance by App State and a somewhat normal start to a bowl schedule with few guarantees about how things will play out.
Most years, the Mean Green, who came in with a losing record, would've had their lockers cleaned out until spring practice. But this isn't most years.
The NCAA waived victory minimums for bowl eligibility — how else could 2-8 South Carolina be playing this time of year? — because of COVID-19. The Frisco Bowl, set to start bowl season last Saturday, was canceled when the virus struck SMU, one of that game's teams.
So instead, it was the Mountaineers returning to Coastal Carolina's teal-colored field for the second time this season after losing to the Chanticleers 34-23 in November.
The App State coach was grateful for the opportunity for some normalcy at the end of a fretful season in which games were canceled, postponed and rescheduled every week.
Clark said his team’s two days at the Grand Strand resort area were “the most fun I’ve seen our players have in the last six months.”
The Mountaineers kept the good times rolling come kickoff.
Tight end Henry Pearson had first-half TD catches of 22 and 11 yards before App State put things out of reach with a 70-yard touchdown run by Marcus Williams Jr. and Peoples' 64-yard burst to the end zone. The Mountaineers led 35-14 at the half.
Peoples piled on with a 62-yard scoring run in the third quarter. He finished the period with a 76-yard run, but was caught just shy of the end zone. No matter. Peoples went in from a yard out.
He added an 11-yard touchdown run around the left side in the final period. Peoples was still running hard with a 7-yard gain midway through the fourth quarter that moved him atop the NCAA record book for bowl rushing yards.
“If you're going to give up explosive (plays), you're going to have a long day,” North Texas coach Sam Littrell said.
Appalachian State: The Mountaineers are at their best in the postseason. Throw in Sun Belt title game victories the previous two seasons and Appalachian State is 8-0 following the regular season since moving to the conference in 2014.
North Texas: The Mean Green didn't have their usual firepower against Appalachian State. They were already without their best player in receiver Jaelon Darden, who entered the NFL draft earlier this month after having 74 catches for 1,190 yards and 19 touchdowns this season. Before the game, North Texas announced leading rusher DeAndre Torrey and second-leading receiver Deonte Simpson would not play against the Mountaineers.
Both teams were effective on the ground. App State's Williams finished with 101 yards. North Texas' Tre Siggers finished with 120 yards and teammate Oscar Adaway had 97. The teams combined for 730 yards rushing out of 1,133 yards of offense.
Both teams had unexpected passers continue their bowl success. App State's first touchdown came when quarterback Zac Thomas threw a lateral to receiver Malik Williams, who hit Pearson for a score. It was Williams' second such throw in a bowl game. North Texas backup quarterback Kason Martin completed a 16-yard TD pass to Loronzo Thompson. Martin, too, had previously connected for a bowl touchdown in a reserve role. Neither Williams nor Martin attempted another pass in the game.
Appalachian State, which won four Sun Belt titles from 2016-19, will open at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina, facing East Carolina on Sept. 4, 2021.
North Texas: The Mean Green, who open with Northwestern State in September, won nine games in both 2017 and 2018, but just four the past two seasons. Coach Seth Littrell will look to turn that around in 2021.
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