Sports

BOONE, N.C. — Is the High Country home to Flavortown, N.C.? Call it Cooking 101 with Coach (or Chef) Clark?

To clarify, at The Rock, it's more of a 300-level course.

App State is once again a nationally ranked program, appearing at No. 23 in the Amway Coaches Poll and tied for No. 23 in the AP Top 25 thanks to a 35-20 victory against Charlotte. The Mountaineers rushed for 308 yards and four touchdowns, prompting head coach Shawn Clark to compare their zone-blocking system to making bread from scratch.

Both require patience but have a big payoff.

"In our running game, we have the outside zone and inside zone, and it's kind of like making bread," Clark said. "You just have to start caressing it a little bit, rubbing it here, rubbing it there. Put it in there, let it rise, and that's the beauty of it. And we never got impatient with it.

"We just had that bread, kind of rubbed it a little bit here and there, and it rose right to the top."

Time to replace that faded hoodie with a chef's coat? No, but Clark makes a funny and worthwhile point.

Moving forward without third-round NFL Draft pick Darrynton Evans, who rushed for 234 yards against Charlotte in 2019, App State turned to the trio of senior Marcus Williams Jr., junior Daetrich Harrington and sophomore Camerun Peoples. They accounted for 279 of the team's 308 rushing yards, with Williams producing 117 and Peoples posting a career-high 102 in just his fifth college game. They scored one touchdown apiece, and Harrington had two fourth-quarter touchdown runs during a 60-yard day.

Production and balance were both achieved, as Harrington had 15 carries, followed by 14 from Williams and 13 for Peoples. All three backs have persevered through difficult challenges, whether it's been overcoming injuries or working into rotations that have included talented runners such as Evans, Jalin Moore and Marcus Cox in recent years.

Williams dealt with injuries as an App State newcomer and made career start No. 5 to open his redshirt senior year. Harrington missed significant time because of injuries in 2018 (knee) and 2019 (foot), while Peoples suffered a season-ending knee injury during the 2019 opener, after he had rushed for a 63-yard touchdown as a redshirting true freshman in the 2018 bowl game.

"That's a different type of hungry, different type of chip on your shoulder when you come back from an ACL injury," Harrington said. "I've been talking to him ever since he's been going through it since last August, the first game versus ETSU. I told him it's going to get greater later. Put in that work, and he showed out."

While the backs are credited with gaudy numbers, App State's offensive linemen, tight ends and wide receivers played a big role in the success of the running game. Four seniors started on the line, with sophomore Cooper Hodges working alongside Baer Hunter, Noah Hannon, Ryan Neuzil and Cole Garrison. Anderson Hardy also played meaningful snaps at tackle.

Hannon's maneuvering to create a cutback lane on Peoples' 16-yard touchdown drew praise from the ESPN2 crew broadcasting the game, and Hennigan's downfield blocking stood out on the perimeter.

Named to PFF College's national offensive team of the week, Hennigan caught five passes for 120 yards (with a 51-yard touchdown) and drew two penalties for defensive pass interference. He was also a force in the run game.

He pushed a defender 5 yards deep into the end zone on Peoples' 16-yard touchdown and did perhaps his finest work on a late 34-yard run by Williams. Hennigan engaged with one defender 5 yards downfield to create open space outside the hash mark for Williams, peeled off to block another defender about 20 yards into the run and then switched to a third defender to help Williams gain about 10 more yards.

"Ever since I was playing with Coach Watts as my receivers coach, it was always about having pride in your blocking," said Hennigan, whose position was coached by current tight ends coach Justin Watts in 2017 and 2018. "That's just something I've really taken to heart. It's a part of the game that I think a lot of people don't like to do, but, honestly, I really enjoy blocking. Going on top of somebody's head (on a long pass) is fun, but physically dominating another man, there isn't another feeling quite like that."

That long run by Williams ignited a game-clinching touchdown drive that closed with Harrington's 15-yard score. By the end of that play, Hannon and receiver Jake Henry were both blocking near the goal line, providing a path to the end zone for Harrington.

"I'm proud of all three of those guys," Clark said of Williams, Peoples and Harrington. "Those are great running backs, but the offensive line did a great job. The offensive line, they block for first downs, and our receivers block for touchdowns."

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