Freshman running back Bernard Pierce reached the 1,000-yard mark and recorded his second straight 200-yard game in Saturday’s 27-24 win against Navy.
ANNAPOLIS, Md. – Freshman running back Bernard Pierce had already rushed for a 68-yard touchdown, his longest from the line of scrimmage this year, in the second quarter of the football team’s 27-24 win against Navy Saturday.
At halftime, he had recorded 96 rushing yards on 12 carries. Navy, the No. 3 rushing team in the nation, had 106 yards on 18 more handoffs.
But then, in the fourth quarter, with the Owls trailing by a touchdown, Pierce topped those numbers and went one step further, scoring the Owls’ game-winning touchdown on a 41-yard run down the sideline.
“Gotta score, gotta score, gotta score [that’ s what was running through my mind in that situation with the team leaning on me],” Pierce said. “I run the ball. That’s what I do. That’s my job.”
In that fourth quarter, Pierce racked up his second consecutive 200-yard rushing game, a first for the Owls since Paul Palmer did it his senior season in 1986. Navy had not allowed an opponent to rush for 200 yards since Notre Dame’s Julius Jones gained 221 yards in 2003. Like Jones, Palmer played in the National Football League. He holds Temple’s all-time rushing yards title with 4,895 yards and finished behind Miami (Fla.) quarterback Vinny Testaverde for the Heisman Trophy in 1986.
“Pierce was a big running back,” Navy’s junior safety Wyatt Middleton said. “He’s strong. He broke a lot of tackles and had good vision.”
Pierce also broke the 1,000-yard rushing barrier for the season. His 267 yards on 29 carries give him 1,033 yards on 164 carries this year with four games remaining. No matter which numbers you look at – rushing yards per game or net rushing yards – Pierce ranks third in the NCAA’s Football Bowl Subdivision. His 129.13 average rushing yards per game trails just Fresno State junior Ryan Mathews and Marshall junior Darius Marshall. His 1,003 net rushing yards lead FBS freshmen running backs. Among all runners, Mathews’ 1,316 net rushing yards top the chart.
“I’m just trying to get better every week and advance to the next level,” Pierce said. “I actually didn’t know [about reaching the 1,000-yard mark] until they told me in the locker room. It’s a great accomplishment.”
“I don’t think you can [describe what Pierce does, and what he has meant to this team],” sophomore wide receiver James Nixon said. “He just goes out and puts his body on the line for us.”
Prior to Navy, Pierce already had his place in the record books with the most rushing yards and most touchdowns in a season by a freshman at Temple.
If he hadn’t missed the second half of the Homecoming game against Army, Pierce could very well have six straight 100-yard rushing games. As it stands now, he will have to settle for five 100-yard rushing games in his last six.
“He ran hard. He made people miss. I’m happy for Bernard,” coach Al Golden said. “I think he shows that when you give him a chance to build up speed that he’s awfully hard to bring down. He’s 212 pounds, and he’s fast. He’s either going to make you miss, stiff-arm you or run you over. If you can run the ball, eventually you’re going to impose your will.”
And that’s what Pierce has been doing, even as every opposing defense has started keying in on him since his breakout versus Buffalo Sept. 26.
When redshirt junior quarterback Vaughn Charlton struggles like he did against Navy, when he completed just 5-of-17 passes for 37 yards and threw two interceptions, Pierce said he does feel “a little bit of extra pressure” to make something happen.
In that situation, he will just have to keep running – and keep scoring.
The Miami (Ohio) game Thursday offers him the perfect opportunity to do that. The RedHawks defense has allowed more than 177 yards rushing per gamethis season.
Jennifer Reardon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.