By David Rogers. September 26, 2020. BOONE, NC — If ever there was a time for a college football team’s “next man up” mantra to materialize, it was in the Appalachian State Mountaineers’ performance again FCS challenger, Campbell, on Saturday at Kidd-Brewer Stadium.
COVER IMAGE: Running back Daetrich Harrington looks upfield for a big gain against Campbell. All photographic images captured by App State Sports and processed by Blowing Rock News.
The Fighting Camels kept things close in the first half, giving up a late second quarter touchdown to trail their hosts, 17-13, going into intermission. But then the Mountaineers ran away with it — literally — to outdistance Campbell by a score of 52-21 when the final tick of the clock dropped to 00:00.
Head coach Shawn Clark revealed to reporters after the game that they didn’t find out they would be without the services of 20 players and at least four assistant coaches until Wednesday afternoon, nearly wiping out more than one position group. “It’s hard to win a college football game with a full team,” noted Clark. “But when the only offensive position groups left intact are offensive line and quarterback, you are challenged.”
One of the advantages of being head coach is that you have 51% of the vote!
Dealing With Adversity
For the Mountaineers, the running backs and wide receivers position groups were decimated either by COVID-19, contact tracing, or injuries. On Friday, App State and AppHealthCare jointly announced that contact tracing had identified 18 players who are quarantining due to exposure to one or more of three active cases of confirmed COVID-19, with all three of those recovering in isolation.
Thank goodness for roster depth, some coaching innovation along the way, and remaining players’ willingness to contribute wherever they are needed and at whatever position required.
Of the three-headed “monster” of a running back group that started the season with Marcus Williams, Jr., Camerun Peoples and Daetrich Harrington, only the latter was healthy for this one. The junior from Douglasville, GA didn’t disappoint in carrying most of the workload, toting the football 32 times for a whopping 211 yards and four TDs before “retiring” early in the 4th quarter.
When one of the App State sports information directors opened Harrington’s segment of the post-game press conference by saying it was the first time an App State player has scored four TDs in a single game since Armanti Edwards against Furman in 2009, Harrington responded, “Wowl, I had no idea…I never thought I would score four touchdowns in a college football game…I am truly blessed to be mentioned in the same sentence with Armanti Edwards, who I know is a pretty big deal around here.”
He smiled in telling reporters that he could not recall scoring four touchdowns in a single game at any level, previously, nor having carried the football so many times. He added, “I think I could have carried another 10 times, though, if needed.”
Fortunately, the need did not materialize because a couple of untested freshmen stepped up.
Miami, FL native and true freshman running back Nate Noel proved himself worthy of being a member of the App State running backs room in his first collegiate action, carrying the ball 14 times for 131 yards and touchdown. Described by Coach Clark as a capable “scat back,” the 5’10”, 175 lb., “three star” recruit exhibited speed, balance, and even power in his App State debut.
Local football fans are familiar with the offensive skills of another true freshman, Anderson Castle, a three-sport athlete while attending Watauga High School. Although he was a dual-threat quarterback for the Pioneers, he was recruited to App State as a defensive back and linebacker, so seeing him called upon to carry the football from more of a fullback position raised some eyebrows around town.
In telling reporters that on Wednesday he was down to a “thin” number of running backs available for this game, Coach Clark said, “I saw Anderson on the sideline at practice, getting a drink of water and called him over. One of the advantages of being head coach is that you have 51% of the vote. I remembered seeing him play in high school and had watched a lot of tape of him and he was an outstanding offensive player. I knew he could play.”
The 6 ft. tall Castle, now bulked up to 200 lbs., exceeded everyone’s expectations as he took command of the Mountaineers’ punishing rushing attack for two series late in the fourth quarter. He carried the ball eight times for 42 yards, often “moving the pile” upon meeting opposition near the line of scrimmage and averaging a respectable 5.3 yards per carry.
Down to Four Receivers
If the running back position group was short-handed, the highly touted wide receivers group was all but decimated. Of the season opening headliners, only senior Thomas Hennigan was available. Fellow seniors Malik Williams and Jalen Virgil were unavailable, as were highly touted freshman Christian Horn and redshirt freshman Christian Wells.
They told me, ‘Coach, run the ball and we’ll win.’
So to support Hennigan’s 3-catch, 67 yard effort, up stepped junior Jake Henry and redshirt freshman Dashaun Davis. Henry pulled down two QB Zac Thomas aerials for 22 yards. Those numbers included a big 17-yard “chunk play” on 3rd-and-12 late in the second quarter to extend an App State drive that ended with Harrington second rushing TD of the game. It was a score that put the Mountaineers ahead at intermission, 17-13, but unlikely to have occurred had Henry not made his catch and run on third down several plays earlier.
Davis (Deerfield Beach, FL) also made the most of his collegiate debut by catching six passes on six targets for 40 yards.
Out of the Shadows, Into the Limelight
With a capable, but depleted receiving corps, Clark admitted to reporters that the team priority was to run the football and run it effectively.
“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, Clark. who had previously served as offensive line coach 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. They told me, ‘Coach, run the ball and we’ll win.'”
So it was a determined O-line that led the way in this rebound victory for App State, which was humbled last week in Marshall at least in part because of an unproductive rushing attack. Bradenton, FL native and senior Ryan Neuzil smiled to reporters later in saying, “Our primary goal was to go out there and have fun. Sometimes we had seven offensive linemen on the field (because of a shortage in available tight ends).”
When a reporter asked Neuzil if he had thoughts of sliding out from the interior to play the tight end position, he laughed, “I tried to tell (the coaches) that I have the best hands on the team, but they weren’t having it.”
After consecutive Sun Belt Conference losses to Georgia Southern, Coastal Carolina and Appalachian State, the road doesn’t get any easier for the Mike Minter (head coach) Campbell football team. “Football 2020” may have to be added as a unique term to the dictionary for all of college football, but especially as a way to describe the Fighting Camels’ campaign. Their Big South Conference postponed its league schedule to the spring because of COVID-19, but is allowing Campbell to play a non-conference schedule in the fall. Next up, next week: Wake Forest, which is resting this week after dropping games the first two weeks to Clemson and North Carolina State.
Especially in the first half of Saturday’s tilt at Kidd-Brewer Stadium against the Mountaineers, Campbell was well represented. The Camels averaged more than 23 yards per pass completion and 188 total yards gained through the air, but it was QB Hajj-Malik Williams who arguably posed the biggest threat to App State’s defense with his dual-threat play-making. In the first quarter, he was part of three “chunk plays”, including a 13-yard rush for a first down on 3rd-and-7 and a 10-yard TD run on 3rd down, to go along with a 42-yard pass completion to a fellow sophomore, wide receiver Jalen Kelsey.
Although down 52-13 late in the 4th quarter, Williams found freshman WR Wiley Hartwell running a post pattern down the middle for an 87-yard TD catch-and-carry to finish the day’s scoring.
Appalachian State gets a welcome rest before opening its Sun Belt Conference schedule on Wednesday, October 7 (7:30 pm), when the Mountaineers host rival Louisiana at Kidd-Brewer in a nationally televised, midweek game (ESPN).
“We need this break,” conceded Shawn Clark, “to heal.”