Marcus Cox found an opening on the right side of the line and kept going, first to the end zone, then into record-breaking territory.
The only drama left in the fourth quarter of Appalachian State's 42-17 victory against La.-Monroe on Saturday pertained to the school's career rushing record. Cox, a four-year starter who missed four games this season, broke Kevin Richardson's mark of 4,804 yards when he scored on a 25-yard run with 12 minutes, 8 seconds remaining on a cold, windy senior day at Kidd Brewer Stadium.
Cox, who needed 10 yards to pass Richardson when the read-option running play was signaled to the huddle, said members of the offensive line looked back and told him, “We’ve got to get it.” Cox extended his left arm to avoid running into lineman Victor Johnson’s back and maintained his balance before sprinting between two defenders at the 15-yard line.
He didn’t stop there, powering through a last-ditch arm tackle at the 10 and providing the signature highlight from a game in which the Mountaineers (8-3, 6-1 Sun Belt) rushed for 429 yards.
“I had to score and finish off the run and get into the end zone to make it even sweeter,” Cox said. “It’s probably one of my favorite plays, and I’ll always remember it. Once I got into the end zone, I really didn’t know what to do or how to feel.”
Right tackle Colby Gossett greeted Cox first at the back of the end zone, and they were quickly swarmed by nine teammates, with 295-pound lineman Parker Collins leaving his feet to jump on the group.
More players sprinted away from the home sideline to join the celebration, which earned a forgivable flag for unsportsmanlike conduct.
“Ever how many flags they had, they threw during that touchdown, but I told the refs, ‘We just broke the school record for rushing,’” Appalachian State coach Scott Satterfield said with a big smile. “Then Parker spiked the ball, and they threw some more flags, but fortunately they only penalized us for a bench clearing. That’s a lot of hard work and a lot of effort and a lot of pride those guys put into that.”
Collins, an emotionally driven senior, had previously told Cox that he wanted to spike the ball if the record was set on a touchdown.
Collins forgot about the request as a dog pile formed around and on top of Cox, but he handed the ball to his long-time teammate after returning to his feet.
“I had fun,” Collins said. “Probably wasn’t the best spike in the world.”
Heading into the regular-season finale at New Mexico State, Cox has 4,820 career yards and 51 rushing touchdowns thanks to his 153-yard, three-score performance against La.-Monroe (4-7, 3-4).
Sophomore running back Jalin Moore added 135 rushing yards to increase his season total to a league-leading 1,294 yards, and quarterback Taylor Lamb contributed 92 rushing yards as the Mountaineers posted 637 total yards of offense.
The passing game played a significant role in the early going, as Lamb completed his first five attempts for 132 yards. He finished with 208 yards and two touchdowns on 14 completions.
Throwing with the wind at his back in the opening quarter, Lamb completed a 40-yard pass to Shaedon Meadors on the Mountaineers' first offensive play and fired a 60-yard touchdown pass to Ike Lewis, who sprinted the final 40 yards.
Ten minutes later, Appalachian State moved ahead 21-3 when Barrett Burns scored on a fourth-and-goal throw from the 3.
“I thought Lamb really played well and made great decisions running and throwing,” Monroe coach Matt Viator said.
Cox, Moore and Lamb ran behind a line that was missing right tackle Beau Nunn, who wore a protective boot on his right foot and walked with crutches. Satterfield said the most likely scenario involves Nunn returning for Appalachian State’s bowl game.
Sophomore center Tobias Edge-Campbell made his first career start, as Collins switched back to his 2015 spot at left guard, left guard Jamie Collmar moved to right guard and Gossett slid over to right tackle. Collectively, the line had its fingerprints all over a dominant offensive effort Saturday as well as a record four years in the making.
“It leaves me speechless,” Cox said. “When I first got here, everybody wants to be the best, but you never really think it’s going to happen until it happens. At the end of the day, you just have to tip your hats off to the offensive line, the coaches, my receivers and tight ends. Everybody on the offensive side of the ball, without them, this day never would have come.”
The Winston-Salem Journal is a news partner of the Observer. For more Appalachian State coverage, go to http://www.journalnow.com/sports/asu/