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Appalachian State Routs Middle Tennessee State 45-13 in New Orleans Bowl to Complete Stellar Season Finishing 11-2

By Tim Gardner

Appalachian State claimed its fourth consecutive bowl victory by mauling Middle Tennessee State 45-13 Saturday night in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

The Mountaineers used an offensive explosion that included trick plays and 448 total yards along with a stingy defense than limited Middle Tennessee State to only one touchdown and 62 rushing yards, while making six sacks.

The win gives the Mountaineers at least 11 victories for the second time in the last four seasons. They finished 11-2, a mark which they also achieved in 2015. They were 10-3 in 2016 and 9-4 a year ago.

Appalachian State also claimed this year’s Sun Belt Conference title, beating Louisiana-Lafayette 30-19 in the league’s championship game Dec. 1 in a battle of the East and West Division champions, respectively.

The Mountaineers earned a share of the Sun Belt title in both 2016 (with Arkansas State) and 2017 (with Troy).

This season’s bowl game also gave former Appalachian State player Mark Ivey a win in what might have been his only chance to coach his alma mater.

Taking over after Scott Satterfield became Louisville’s head coach, Ivey was determined to make his lone game as interim head coach a memorable one.

“I had a blast,” Ivey said. “If you can’t make this fun, if you can’t love what you do, there’s no purpose of being here.”

Ivey was thought to possibly have a chance to have the interim tag removed and be under consideration for Appalachian State’s head coaching post. Instead, the school hired NC State offensive coordinator Eliah “Eli” Drinkwitz as head coach on Thursday. It’s unclear if Ivey will return to his role as an assistant at Appalachian State, where he has served the past seven seasons, mostly as defensive line coach. He also was named by Satterfield as assistant head coach prior to this season.

The 35-year-old Drinkwitz will take over a team that will be loaded with experience next season, losing only one starter on offense and just three starters on defense.

Wide receiver Malik Williams threw Appalachian State’s first two touchdowns against Middle Tennessee State and its offensive onslaught didn’t stop until in the fourth quarter.

Quarterback Zac Thomas finished 15-of-24 passing for 177 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions. Wide Receiver Corey Sutton hauled in two touchdown passes on eight catches for 78 yards. And running back Darrynton Evans eclipsed the 100-yard mark, finishing with 108 yards on 14 carries.

Williams, Thomas, Sutton and Evans are all sophomores.

The Appalachian State backfield now also holds the records for the third and fourth longest runs in the New Orleans Bowl history.

The Mountaineers led 24-6 at halftime, despite Middle Tennessee State reaching their 30-yard line on four drives in the first half. Defensive back Josh Thomas’ red zone interception in the first quarter served as a key momentum swing for Appalachian State, and senior Okon Godwin accounted for 2.5 of the defense’s sacks. Linebacker Anthony Flory, and linemen Demetrius Taylor and Chris Willis contributed in that category, and defensive back Tae Hayes also posted a first-half interception.

Appalachian State all but put the game away on a 17-yard touchdown reception by Sutton with 11:06 left in the third quarter. That and Chandler Staton’s conversion kick boosted the Mountaineers to a 31-6 cushion.

Freshman Camerun Peoples then added a 63-yard touchdown run – the third longest in New Orleans Bowl history – with eight minutes left in the period and Staton followed with the point-after to give the Mountaineers a 38-6 lead.

Middle Tennessee (8-6) couldn’t get going offensively against the Appalachian State defensive front. The Blue Raiders had more penalty yards (89) than rushing yards (62). The Mountaineers rushed for 233 yards — the fifth most in New Orleans Bowl history — and the touchdown run by Peoples even bettered the Blue Raiders total rushing output.

State 30 on four first-half drives,

Brent Stockstill, Middle Tennessee State’s quarterback and the Conference USA’s Most Valuable Player, went 25-of-37 passing for 330 yards. He threw a touchdown, but also two interceptions as he was under constant pressure from the Appalachian State defenders.

“We couldn’t get open. We couldn’t protect. We couldn’t run the ball. For an offense, that’s tough sledding,” said Middle Tennessee coach Rick Stockstill, father of Brent Stockstill. “You’ve got to give them (Appalachian State) credit. They didn’t give us much breathing room.”

Middle Tennessee State cut the deficit to 38-13 when Stockstill tossed a 43-yard touchdown pass to Isiah Upton and Crews Holt added the extra point with 5:56 to go in the third quarter.

But the Mountaineers answered when Thomas threw his second scoring strike to Sutton, this one from 11 yards, with 13:06 remaining in the game. Staton made the extra point kick as Appalachian State then led by what turned out to be the final tally, 45-13.

The game started poorly for Appalachian State as its first two drives resulted in turnovers. And Holt kicked a 24 yard field goal to give Middle Tennessee State a 3-0 lead with 5:15 left in the opening period.

Staton then kicked a 22-yard field goal with 13:48 remaining in the second quarter to tie the score at 3.

Freshman Tyler Bird stuffed a Middle Tennessee fake punt near midfield, also early in the second quarter, to help the Mountaineers start the rout.

Their first touchdown came on a double pass as Thomas lateraled to Williams who tossed the ball to another sophomore wide receiver, Thomas Hennigan, who made a 30-yard touchdown catch. Staton converted the extra point kick for a 10-3 lead.

The Mountaineers failed on an ensuing onside kick attempt. But Hayes then picked off a pass by Stockstill to give the Mountaineers the ball back.

Appalachian State’s next score was from another trick play as Evans took the handoff inside the 10-yard-line, pitched it to Williams who found Thomas wide open in the end zone for an 8-yard quarterback touchdown catch. Staton’s extra point gave the Mountaineers a 17-3 lead.

Evans then broke off a 62-yard run — the fourth longest in New Orleans Bowl history — to key Appalachian State’s last scoring drive of the first half, capped by a 1-yard touchdown pass from Thomas to Henry Pearson. Following Staton’s ensuing PAT, the Mountaineers led 24-3.

Holt kicked a 33-yard field goal the play of the half to make the score 24-6.

Complete game statistics may be obtained online by logging onto the following link: https://appstatesports.com/index.aspx?path=football