MOBILE, Ala. (AP) — Sophomore Kareem Hunt is already one of the most accomplished running backs in Toledo history. The five seniors blocking for him were intent on ending their college careers with a victory.
Combine the two and the Rockets were a running juggernaut that Arkansas State simply couldn’t stop.
Hunt ran for a bowl-record 271 yards and five touchdowns to lead Toledo over Arkansas State 63-44 on Sunday night. He averaged 8.5 yards per carry and scored three touchdowns in the first half as the Rockets took a 35-17 lead by halftime.
“Kareem has a special gear and it happens a lot when you least expect it,” Toledo center Greg Mancz said. “That’s what makes him so special.”
The 5-foot-11, 200-pound Hunt capped a phenomenal season by slicing through Arkansas State’s defense early and often. The performance easily set a GoDaddy Bowl record, topping the previous mark of 207 set by Tulsa’s Tarrion Adams in 2009.
Hunt, who was the game’s offensive MVP, said he wished he could give the trophy to the offensive line.
“We just had to keep putting points on the board,” Hunt said. “Our offense definitely did that and the offensive line never stopped blocking.”
Toledo (9-4) ended the season on a three-game winning streak.
Arkansas State (7-6) pulled within 49-38 in the fourth quarter, but could get no closer. The Red Wolves were playing in their fourth straight GoDaddy Bowl and fell to 2-2 over that span.
Arkansas State’s Fredi Knighten threw for 403 yards and five touchdowns.
It was an entertaining game that featured three defensive touchdowns, six touchdowns of at least 40 yards and Arkansas State linebacker Xavier Woodson getting kicked out of the game for “threatening an official.”
Big numbers were the norm, even outside of Hunt’s record-setting performance. Knighten’s day was tempered by two costly fumbles that were both returned for touchdowns. Arkansas State’s Booker Mays caught five passes for 138 yards and three touchdowns.
The two teams combined for 1,009 total yards.
Hunt’s stellar performance wasn’t a surprise — he’s been piling up numbers for more than year. The Willoughby, Ohio, native moved into a starting role midway through his freshman season and has run for at least 100 yards in all 10 games he played this season.
“He’s just a beast,” Arkansas State coach Blake Anderson said. “He runs through arm tackles, his legs never stop churning and his knees are hitting guys in the chin.”
Toledo finished with 365 yards rushing, including 103 yards and two touchdowns by Damion Jones-Moore. Logan Woodside completed 21 of 27 passes for 176 yards.
“We’ve had a confidence about ourselves that we can run the football because that’s who we are and that’s what we do,” Toledo coach Matt Campbell said.
It was a frantic start to the game with two touchdowns scored in the first 90 seconds.
Knighten fumbled on Arkansas State’s first play and Toledo’s Trent Voss recovered in the end zone to give the Rockets a 7-0 lead. The Red Wolves bounced back quickly, though, needing just five plays to tie the game on Knighten’s 43-yard touchdown pass to Mays.
Toledo scored two more touchdowns by the end of the first quarter — both on runs by Hunt — to take a 21-14 advantage. The 35 combined points in one quarter tied a GoDaddy Bowl record.
Arkansas State pulled within 21-17 by midway through the second quarter, but the Red Wolves had no answer for Hunt and couldn’t overcome some costly turnovers.
Toledo added two more touchdowns in the waning minutes of the first half: Hunt ran for a 29-yard touchdown on a 4th-and-2 play and then 6-foot-2, 275-pound defensive Allen Covington recovered a fumble by Knighten and rumbled 67 yards for the touchdowns.
It gave the Rockets a 35-17 halftime lead despite Arkansas State’s 250-237 advantage in total yards.
“You can’t spot a really good team 14 points,” Anderson said. “With that said, I thought our team played extremely hard … but that’s not our best football.”
Arkansas State didn’t go away until late in the fourth quarter. The Red Wolves fell behind 42-17 midway through the third quarter, but responded with two quick touchdowns, including a 94-yard interception return by Money Hunter, who is the son of Major League outfielder Torii Hunter.
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