After Nate Noel completed a carry on his first drive as an active App State running back, offensive lineman Cooper Hodges pulled him aside to offer on-field words of encouragement and advice.
By the fourth quarter, Hodges was flexing near the end zone following a long run from the true freshman.
With the Mountaineers’ veterans working to execute a revised game plan while also assisting young teammates in new roles, a shorthanded but motivated App State squad overcame a slow start to dominate the last three quarters of a 52-21 win against Campbell on Saturday at Kidd Brewer Stadium.
A determined offensive line — sometimes with as many as seven linemen on the field at one time — led the way as App State (2-1) rushed for 404 yards even though it was missing several skill position starters. One day earlier, App State and AppHealthCare announced that contact tracing had identified 18 players who are quarantining due to exposure to one of three active cases of confirmed COVID-19, with all three cases recovering in isolation.
Daetrich Harrington had career highs of 32 carries for 211 yards and four rushing touchdowns, the most by a Mountaineer since Armanti Edwards against Furman in 2009. Noel added 131 yards and one touchdown on 14 carries.
App State’s defense shut out Campbell (0-3) from early in the second quarter until the closing minutes of the fourth, enabling the Mountaineers to turn a 13-7 deficit into a 52-13 lead.
“We knew if we were going to win this football game that we were going to put it in the hands of our offensive line and our running back, Daetrich,” said first-year head coach Shawn Clark, who coached App State’s offensive linemen from 2016-19. “I know those guys very well. I recruited all of them up front, and I have a lot of trust in those guys. And they told me, ‘Coach, run the ball and we’ll win.’ ”
With Thomas Hennigan as the only starting receiver available, nine of Zac Thomas’ 12 completions went to teammates who entered Saturday with no career catches, highlighted by Dashaun Davis’ six receptions on six targets. The Mountaineers were without running backs Marcus Williams Jr. and Camerun Peoples, who both rushed for more than 100 yards in the Sept. 12 home opener, but Harrington and Noel gave App State two more 100-yard backs through just three games.
A shortage of available tight ends translated to offensive linemen Damion Daley and Anderson Hardy appearing frequently as blocking tight ends with jersey numbers in the 90s. Sometimes playing together, they helped Hodges, Baer Hunter, Noah Hannon, Ryan Neuzil and Cole Garrison pave the way for a big day on the ground.
Harrington scored on a 17-yard run in the first quarter, a 2-yard run to give App State the lead for good in the final minute of the first half, a 40-yard run to open the second half and a 5-yard run early in the fourth quarter.
“This whole week was different, but we never lost faith in what we could do,” Harrington said. “We stayed as a team even though we had guys out.”
Defensively, senior safety Kaiden Smith had a team-high seven tackles, and cornerback Shemar Jean-Charles added two more PBUs to increase his FBS-leading total to eight. True freshman Jalen McLeod started at outside linebacker in his first college appearance, forced a fumble and recorded a sack.
Trey Cobb and Tristan Walliser also posted sacks for a defense that delivered four three-and-out stops and a goalline stand in a five-possession stretch to help the Mountaineers score 45 consecutive points.
“This year has been different in so many ways,” Smith said. “Adversity isn’t anything new to us, so this was just another form of adversity. Coach Clark did a good job of spinning it into almost something positive to where we’d have some guys have to step up.”
Following a 1-yard touchdown run by Campbell quarterback Hajj-Malik Williams in the first quarter, Harrington’s 17-yard touchdown run capped a 10-play, 82-yard answer by the Mountaineers. Noel contributed 27 rushing yards on three carries during the drive, and Davis prolonged the series with a 10-yard catch in a fourth-and-4 situation from the Campbell 27.
Trailing 13-7 in the second quarter, the Mountaineers cut their deficit in half on Chandler Staton’s 32-yard field goal. Junior receiver Jake Henry’s first career catch was a third-down conversion early in the drive, and the 16-play possession that covered more than eight minutes included a heavy dose of runs from Harrington and Noel.
App State took its first lead on Harrington’s touchdown run behind defender-turned-fullback Caleb Spurlin with 24 seconds left in the half, and Harrington’s third touchdown was followed by an 8-yard touchdown run by Thomas. Noel scored his first career touchdown on a 5-yard scoring run with 5:02 left in the quarter, part of a 21-0 period for App State.
After Harrington’s last touchdown, backup quarterback Jacob Huesman scored on an 8-yard keeper to end a drive in which he handed off frequently to linebacker-turned-runner Anderson Castle, who gained 42 yards on eight carries.
“This week, the emphasis was on having fun out there,” Neuzil said. “The O-line had a lot of fun out there today.”
Bouncing back from last week’s road loss at Marshall, the Mountaineers have now won 12 of their last 13 games after a loss dating back to 2015. They return to action on Wednesday, Oct. 7, with an ESPN home game against Louisiana (3-0).