Appalachian State is the New Orleans Bowl champion for the second year in a row after beating UAB 31-17 on Saturday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
The No. 20 Mountaineers have now won five straight bowl games, and this is the second straight season in which they've had to find a new head coach ahead of their bowl.
Eliah Drinkwitz moved on to Missouri after one year in charge, and Appalachian State announced Dec. 13 that offensive line coach Shawn Clark would succeed Drinkwitz effective immediately.
Appalachian State was far from perfect in Clark's head coaching debut. The Mountaineers were 2-of-13 on third down and committed 11 penalties for 131 yards.
App State's defense forced three turnovers and held UAB to 40 yards rushing while providing the spark for the team's second-half turnaround.
- Zac Thomas, QB, Appalachian State: 13-of-24, 142 yards, two touchdowns; nine carries, 29 yards
- Darrynton Evans, RB, Appalachian State: 19 carries, 156 yards, one touchdown
- Thomas Hennigan, WR, Appalachian State: three receptions, 50 yards, two touchdowns
- Tyler Johnston III, QB, UAB: 22-of-34, 298 yards, two touchdowns, one interception
- Spencer Brown, RB, UAB: 14 carries, 39 yards
- Austin Watkins, WR, UAB: 10 receptions, 159 yards, one touchdown
App State Capitalizes on Fortunate Breaks
Whether it was a result of the coaching change or the two-week break since its last game, Appalachian State was uncharacteristically poor in the first half and trailed 14-10 at halftime.
Some good luck helped the Mountaineers overturn the deficit and take control of the game.
Clark called a quarterback keeper on 4th-and-1 from the UAB 30-yard line with 12:14 left in the third quarter. Zac Thomas fumbled the snap, only to have Darrynton Evans pick the ball up in the backfield and run 31 yards to the end zone for a go-ahead score.
After a 49-yard field goal from Nick Vogel tied the game, Appalachian State turned defense into offense. Trey Cobb recovered a fumble by Tyler Johnston III and returned it 24 yards for a touchdown.
Thomas capped off a 21-point quarter by hitting Thomas Hennigan for a 27-yard touchdown pass. Momentum had swung firmly in the Mountaineers' direction.
The final score is somewhat deceiving, as Appalachian State didn't dominate in the way some expected the team would. The Mountaineers took full advantage of their fortunate breaks in the second half, though, to pull away in what proved to be an anticlimactic win.
Blazers Can't Maintain Hot Start
UAB head coach Bill Clark couldn't have asked for a better way for his team to open the game.
The Blazers received the opening kickoff and marched 75 yards down the field in four plays. Johnston hit Hayden Pittman for a 25-yard touchdown pass. Johnston then doubled UAB's lead with another 25-yard pass, this time hitting Austin Watkins.
That was the high point of the game for the Blazers, as their offense quickly fell back to earth.
The team entered Saturday averaging a healthy 159.3 yards per game on the ground yet was unable to establish the run against the Mountaineers. That put too much pressure on Johnston, who had completed 58.1 percent of his passes and threw 14 interceptions in the regular season.
Johnston didn't have a bad game, but his fumble in the third quarter was costly. And what quickly grew to a two-score deficit felt much bigger with UAB's one-dimensional offense.
UAB attempted to mount a late comeback, but their final drive ended when Watkins fumbled with 1:25 left in the game. App State ran out the remaining time on the clock to seal the victory.