NEW ORLEANS — Appalachian State receiver Malik Williams passed for two touchdowns on trick plays, quarterback Zac Thomas caught a scoring pass and threw for three more, and the Mountaineers routed Middle Tennessee 45-13 in the New Orleans Bowl on Saturday night.
Camerun Peoples had a 63-yard touchdown run for the Mountaineers (11-2), which gave Appalachian State alum and former player Mark Ivey a victory in what might have been his only chance to coach his alma mater.
Taking over on an interim basis after Scott Satterfield left for Louisville, Ivey looked determined to make his lone game as interim coach a memorable one. He even called for a surprise onside kick in the first half. And it might have worked if Clifton Duck had not snatched the high-bounding ball a yard before it had covered the mandatory 10 yards for a legal touch by the kicking team.
That was about the only thing Ivey tried that didn’t work, but Middle Tennessee (8-6) could not take advantage of it. Three plays later, Tae Hayes’ interception and 27-yard return to the Blue Raiders 41 set up Williams’ second TD passing. He took a pitch from running back Darrynton Evans on a reverse then threw to Thomas, who’d sprinted to the end zone after the initial handoff.
Williams first TD came after he caught a backward pass from Thomas near the right edge of the field and launched a 30-yard strike down the sidelined to Thomas Hennigan.
Thomas didn’t throw his first touchdown pass until the final minute of the first half, when he found Henry Pearson from a yard out. In the second half, he hit Corey Sutton or TDs of 17 and 11 yards. He finished 15 of 24 for 177 yards and was intercepted twice by safety Reed Blankenship.
Middle Tennessee’s Brent Stockstill finished 25 of 37 for 330 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.
Middle Tennessee: Stockstill was under constant pressure from an Appalachian State defense that had allowed fewer than 16 points per game coming in. He was hit as he threw his second interception and was sacked six times. And the Blue Raiders couldn’t get their ground game going, finishing with just 62 yards rushing.
Appalachian State: The Mountaineers finished with 448 total yards, including two runs of more than 60 yards. Evans’ 62-yard run set up Thomas’ first TD pass and stood as the third-longest run in New Orleans Bowl history until it was eclipsed by Peoples’ blazing scoring run down the right sideline. Evans finished with 108 yards.
Stockstill has to settle on a new QB after seeing his son break most meaningful Blue Raiders passing records during the past four years, including career TDs with 106. The Blue Raiders have to replace seven offensive starters while six starters are set to come back on defense.
Appalachian State enters the era of newly hired coach Eli Drinkwitz, who has been NC State’s offensive coordinator for the past three seasons. The 35-year-old Drinkwitz takes over a team that won the past three Sun Belt titles. The Mountaineers will be loaded with experience next season, losing only one starter on offense and just three on defense.