By David Rogers. December 21, 2019. NEW ORLEANS, LA — Swashbuckling tales on the high seas abound in The Big Easy, home to legendary pirates of yesteryear. They have little to nothing on New Orleans’ modern-day buccaneers.
COVER IMAGE: Junior RB Darrynton Evans runs around the left side for a big gain in the second half of the 2019 R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl. All photographic images by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News
After spotting the Blazers of UAB 14 points in the first five minutes of the game, many in the Mercedes-Benze Superdome wondered aloud if the oddsmakers’ 16.5 point spread in favor of App State before the game maybe should have been reversed, to favor the Alabamans.
But once the Mountaineers got their wagons hitched, so to speak, there was no stopping the stampede. Behind 261 yards rushing — the second most in New Orleans Bowl history — App State scored 31 of the last 34 points tallied in this ball game.
Named the game’s MVP, junior running back Darrynton Evans carried the ball 19 times for 161 net yards and a touchdown, a New Orleans record for average yards per carry of 8.5. The previous record of 8.1 yards per carry by Colorado State’s Henri Childs had stood for 19 years, dating back to the first edition of this bowl game.
Six quarterback sacks by the Mountaineer defense and three turnovers by UAB proved to be difference makers as drive killers for the Blazers. UAB quarterback Tyler Johnston III completed 22-of-34 passes for 298 yards and the two first quarter TDs to receivers Austin Watkins and Hayden Pittman, but two lost fumbles and an interception by Mountaineer defensive back Shemar Jean-Charles proved to be UAB’s undoing.
One of the lost UAB fumbles was a “Scoop Six”, picked up on the run by Appalachian sophomore inside linebacker Trey Cobb and returned 24 yards for a third quarter TD. That broke a 17-17 logjam wide open.
The other Blazer fumble was forced and then recovered by the Mountaineers’ defensive back Shaun Jolly, the turnover ending any hope UAB harbored for a miracle with 1:25 left in the game. Upon taking possession, App State’s star junior QB Zac Thomas simply ran out the clock — much to the delight of the Mountaineers’ legion of fans in the grandstands.
One of the touching post-game moments came during the celebration, right after the trophy presentation to head coach Shawn Clark, who picked up his first football win as a head coach and first bowl victory all in one fell swoop. With seniors Jordan Fehr (linebacker) and Noah Hannon (offensive lineman) sitting on the stage in front of him as he hoisted the big trophy over his head, Clark then leaned down as the players scrambled to their feet and said, “Now go take this trophy to the fans.”
Perhaps it is that top-down appreciation for the people that, ultimately, make a football program possible is why Appalachian State continues to make history.
And while it may not have been the prettiest football game ever played, it was history-making:
- With the win, App State finishes the 2019 season with a 13-1 record, the best record ever for a New Orleans Bowl champion
- The Mountaineers are the third team in the bowl game’s history to win back-to-back editions of the game. Southern Miss won in 2004 and 2005 and Louisiana won four straight New Orleans Bowl games from 2011 to 2014
- App State’s comeback from the 14-point first quarter deficit matches the largest comeback in the 19-year history of the New Orleans Bowl. In 2009, Middle Tennessee trailed Southern Miss 14-0 after the first quarter before rallying to win, 42-32
- A year ago, the Mountaineers allowed just 62 rushing yards to Middle Tennessee’s heavily favored contingent, the third fewest in New Orleans Bowl history. On Saturday night, App State topped that defensive performance by allowing just 40 yards — which is now the third fewest
- Darrynton Evans is only the fourth running back in the bowl game’s history to be named MVP
- Evans’ 57 yard ramble in the second quarter is the 5th-longest in New Orleans Bowl history. With his 62-yard run from scrimmage last year, Evans now has two of the top five longest runs
- App State wide receiver Thomas Hennigan finished with two TD catches, becoming the ninth receiver in game history with multiple TD catches
- Defensively, Mountaineer senior inside linebacker Jordan Fehr recorded 11 tackles, 10 of them solo. That ties the New Orleans Bowl record first set by Craig Jones of North Texas in 2002
UAB’s opening touchdown, a 25-yard pass from QB Tyler Johnson III to WR Hayden Pittman, came just 74 seconds into the game. It is the second-fastest score to start a New Orleans Bowl game. The fastest came 11 years ago when Troy’s Jorrick Calvin returned a fumble 17 yards for a TD just 50 seconds into the 2008 game
- UAB wide receiver Austin Watkins finished with game highs of 10 receptions for 159 yards, becoming the fourth player in New Orleans Bowl history with double digits in receptions and just one catch shy of the single game record of 11. His yardage total is the third most in game history
- Second half fumble recoveries played a key role in the Mountaineer win. App State took its first lead, 17-14, early in the third quarter when Darrynton Evans scooped up a fourth-down fumble and ran 31 yards for the TD. After UAB responded by driving down the field to tie the game with a 49-yard field goal by placekicker Nick Vogel, less than two minutes later Trey Cobb recovered a UAB fumble and returned it 24 yards for a TD.
- FIVE is FINE: With the win, new head coach Shawn Clark and his five 5th-year seniors (Akeem Davis-Gaither, Desmond Franklin, Victor Johnson, Collin Reed, and Josh Thomas) finished their college football careers with a 7-0 post-season record that included four Sun Belt championships, back to back wins in the first two Sun Belt Championship games, and a 5-0 bowl record — the first five years of bowl eligibility for the Mountaineers
- With the win, App State became the first Sun Belt team AND the first FBS team from the State of North Carolina to win 13 games in a single season
- App State set Sun Belt Conference records for single-season points scored (543) and touchdowns (73)
- After the first two UAB scoring drives, App State’s defense held the Blazers to just 184 yards of total offense and produced three turnovers and six QB sacks