NEW ORLEANS (AP) — While the future of Appalachian State interim coach Mark Ivey is unknown, Mountaineers players left no doubt about how much they appreciated the way he handled his lone game in charge, carrying him off the field in triumph.
"It was an honor," said Ivey, a former Appalachian State player who took over when Scott Satterfield left for Louisville two weeks ago. "I'm glad that the kids think enough about me to want to celebrate with me and have fun because I love every one of those kids. They are exceptional."
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), who gave Ivey, a former Appalachian State player, a victory in what might have been his only chance to coach his alma mater.
Ivey — who'll soon be replaced by North Carolina State offensive coordinator Eli Drinkwitz — looked determined to make his lone game as interim coach a memorable one.
"I had a blast," Ivey said, noting that one of his "core values" is to have fun amid the work of preparing to play. "If you can't make this fun, if you can't love what you do, there's no purpose of being here."
Appalachian State even tried a surprise onside kick in the first half — and it might have worked if Clifton Duck had not snatched the high-bounding ball just before it had covered the mandatory 10 yards for a legal touch by the kicking team.
That was one of few things that didn't go right for the Mountaineers, but Middle Tennessee (8-6) could not take advantage of it. Three plays later, Tae Hayes' interception and 27-yard return set up Appalachian State on the Blue Raiders 41. Soon after, Williams connected on his second TD pass, which the former high school QB threw to Thomas after taking a pitch from running back Darrynton Evans on a reverse.
"Coach Ivey's done a phenomenal job with this team," Thomas said. "We owe a lot to that man."
Middle Tennessee's Brent Stockstill was 25-of-37 passing for 330 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.
"We couldn't get open. We couldn't protect. We couldn't run the ball. For an offense, that's tough sledding," Middle Tennessee coach Rick Stockstill said. "You've got to give them credit. They didn't give us much breathing room."
Williams' first TD passing 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 threw his first touchdown pass in the final minute of the first half, when he found Henry Pearson from a yard out. In the second half, he hit Corey Sutton for TDs of 17 and 11 yards. He finished 15 of 24 for 177 yards, but also was intercepted twice by safety Reed Blankenship.
Middle Tennessee: Brent Stockstill was under constant pressure from an Appalachian State defense that has allowed fewer than 16 points per game. He was hit as he threw on his second interception and sacked six times. The Blue Raiders couldn't get their ground game going, either, 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.
"What he has done, what he has meant to this program, what he has meant to this team, words don't do him justice," Rick Stockstill said of his quarterback son, whose college career ended with the bowl game. "He's just a phenomenal human being, fantastic player, fantastic leader. I'm just very, very humbled to be his coach — and now I get to be his dad."
Middle Tennessee: Rick Stockstill has to settle on a new QB after seeing his son, Brent, set 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: The Drinkwitz era begins. After three seasons as offensive coordinator at NC State, 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.
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