CONWAY, S.C. — In the Grand Strand, neither sand nor the teal "Surf Turf" at the Myrtle Beach Bowl could slow down "The Bulls" and App State's running backs.
The Mountaineers rushed for a whopping 500 yards in a 56-28 win against North Texas, reaching half a grand for the first time since the 1975 team gained 575 yards on the ground against Lenoir-Rhyne.
Camerun Peoples set a program and NCAA bowl record with 317 rushing yards, and Marcus Williams Jr. added 101, making them the 100-yard tandem with the second-most combined rushing yards (418) in a bowl game behind only a Baylor tandem with 460 in 2015.
Blocking from tight ends such as Henry Pearson and receivers such as Thomas Hennigan turned big gains into long touchdowns. No doubt, Peoples and Williams wouldn't have combined for four rushes of at least 62 yards without that or the work up front from "The Bulls" — the program's moniker for a Nic Cardwell-coached line that includes center Noah Hannon, left guard Ryan Neuzil, right guard Baer Hunter, right tackle Cooper Hodges and left tackle Anderson Hardy.
"I love my guys," said Hannon, who has started all 52 games that App State has played since he enrolled as a true freshman, going 42-10 in that time. "The best offensive line in the country is what we have here. To be able to be a part of such a special performance is a true blessing. I'm happy for Cam and the hard work he has put in to get here. And I am so happy to just be a part of the success."
App State's offensive linemen feast on steaks after the Mountaineers finish a game with 300-plus rushing yards and no sacks allowed.
What should 500 yards and no sacks trigger? A beach-style, seafood-buffet run on Calabash shrimp?
With a combined 174 career starts among its offensive linemen following the bowl win, App State went through the 2020 season with the nation's most experienced line. All five of the Mountaineers' primary starters on the offensive line earned All-Sun Belt recognition from PFF College.
Hannon finished the regular season with the highest PFF grade of any Sun Belt player at his position, just like another senior in Neuzil, who made his 44th straight start in the bowl win. Hunter, who started for the 32nd straight game, and Hannon were voted to the All-Sun Belt first team by the league coaches and media Monday, while Neuzil was named a second-team All-American by PFF.
Hannon, Tyler Linderbaum (Iowa), Drake Jackson (Kentucky) and Landon Dickerson (Alabama) were the only FBS centers who earned a grade above 75.0 in both pass protection and as a run-blocker during the regular season, according to PFF.
A sophomore, Hodges has also earned all-league accolades from the Sun Belt, and Hardy started the final three games of his sophomore season after taking over for sidelined senior Cole Garrison, who was a third-team All-Sun Belt pick at left tackle by PFF.
Before Monday, App State's highest rushing total in an FBS game had been 469 yards during a 44-0 shutout of Georgia State in 2014.
"Our (position) coach, Coach (Brian) Haines, he always talks about getting to the second level and one-on-ones with the safeties," Peoples said. "We expect to win those every single time. Any running back in the country will tell you, you get past the second line of defense, it's you and safeties and corners, those should be wins every time. The O-line did a great job, tight ends as well, making sure we had those opportunities."
App State produced a 1,000-yard rusher for the ninth straight season — a streak that likely will be the nation's longest active one at season's end — and the Mountaineers beat long odds to extend it.
Peoples entered the bowl game needing 193 yards to achieve 1,000, as he started just the last four regular-season games of his redshirt sophomore season.
Williams, the opening-day starter as a senior, battled injuries that limited his workload throughout the season. Daetrich Harrington began his junior year as the top backup and had 595 rushing yards to rank among the Sun Belt leaders before he suffered a season-ending injury in the sixth game.
Peoples has overcome his own injuries, given that he tore the ACL and LCL in his right knee on a 17-yard run in the 2019 opener. He actually made his first career start last month at the site of his record-breaking bowl performance, rushing for 178 yards in a close loss to Coastal Carolina, so he recorded 495 rushing yards in two games at Brooks Stadium this year and 758 yards in his five starts.
"A lot of hard work and perseverance went in to this game, and to see it pay off is very rewarding," Hannon said. "A true group effort. Great day to be a Mountaineer!"