Clark leads Mountaineers to historic fifth straight bowl win with 31-17 victory over UAB

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Clark leads Mountaineers to historic fifth straight bowl win with 31-17 victory over UAB

Junior wide receiver Thomas Hennigan celebrates after catching his second touchdown of the game to put the Mountaineers up 31-17.

Junior wide receiver Thomas Hennigan celebrates after catching his second touchdown of the game to put the Mountaineers up 31-17.

Moss Brennan

Junior wide receiver Thomas Hennigan celebrates after catching his second touchdown of the game to put the Mountaineers up 31-17.

Moss Brennan

Moss Brennan

Junior wide receiver Thomas Hennigan celebrates after catching his second touchdown of the game to put the Mountaineers up 31-17.

Silas Albright and Moss Brennan

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The Mountaineers traveled 758 miles to slay a dragon, make history, send the seniors off with another bowl victory and give Shawn Clark his first win as head coach inside the famed Mercedes-Benz Superdome. 

“It’s a great day to be a Mountaineer, baby,” Clark said. “Our team has a ton of poise, and it’s been that way all year. Our team has great senior leadership.”

The game started with a bang as University of Alabama at Birmingham redshirt sophomore quarterback Tyler Johnston III hit redshirt junior wide receiver Austin Watkins, Jr for a 35-yard pickup.

After redshirt junior tight end Hayden Pittman finished the opening drive off  with a 25-yard touchdown reception, App State went three-and-out. 

Over the course of UAB’s first two possessions, Watkins had five catches for 124 yards and a touchdown in less than five minutes of play. 

Those two early touchdowns were the only points the Blazers were able to score until a 49-yard field goal midway through the third quarter — their last points of the game. UAB scored 14 points in the first five minutes of play but was held to just three over the next 55 minutes. 

“Our defense gave up two plays early,” Clark said. “After that, they played lights out.”

App State went three-and-out on its first two possessions and wasn’t able to score at all in the first quarter.

Junior kicker Chandler Staton started off the Mountaineer scoring with a 34-yard field goal less than a minute into the second quarter.

The Mountaineers scored their first touchdown of the game later in the second quarter with a 17-yard pass from junior quarterback Zac Thomas to junior wide receiver Thomas Hennigan, his first of two touchdowns. 

“I’m not the fastest guy, I haven’t ever been. I’m not going to be the strongest guy out there, but the reason I’m playing college football is making the tough catches,” Hennigan said. 

Junior running back Darrynton Evans also started to get rolling in the second quarter. He broke free for a 57-yard gain that led to a field goal from Staton. Evans went on to rack up 157 yards and one touchdown on 19 carries in the game. 

He also averaged 8.3 yards per carry, setting the record for most yards per carry in the New Orleans Bowl’s 19-year history. He was named MVP of the game for his efforts. Evans also won the MVP of the Sun Belt Championship game. 

Moss Brennan
Junior running back Darrynton Evans lifts the MVP trophy after defeating UAB 31-17.

The Mountaineers headed into the locker room trailing 14-10. The last time the Mountaineers trailed entering halftime was a 24-21 loss to Georgia Southern on Oct. 31.

 

“(We) went in at halftime and told the guys to settle down and lets play Appalachian State football,” Clark said. 

App State got the ball to start the second half and drove 75 yards on seven plays in 2:46 to take their first lead of the game with 12:14 remaining in the third quarter. 

The score came when Evans scooped up a Thomas fumble on a fourth-and-one play and ran 31 yards for the score. 

“It was just right place, right time,” Evans said. 

UAB marched up the field and finished their drive off with a 49-yard field goal from redshirt senior kicker Nick Vogel to tie the game at 17 with 8:19 left in the third. 

The Mountaineers went on to regain the lead on a defensive touchdown with just over six minutes left in the third quarter. Redshirt freshman outside linebacker Nick Hampton forced a fumble that was recovered by sophomore inside linebacker Trey Cobb who took it 24 yards for the score to put the Mountaineers up 24-17. 

The Mountaineers final score of the game came on a 27-yard touchdown pass to Hennigan who jumped up and in mid-air, wrestled the ball out of a UAB defender’s grasp and maintained possession in the end zone for his second score of the game.

That touchdown made the score 31-17 with 44 seconds left in the third. 

Neither team would score in the fourth quarter and the Mountaineers became the first team to win bowl games in each of its first five bowl-eligible seasons. Sophomore cornerback Shaun Jolly forced and recovered a fumble with 1:25 left in the game to get the ball back and seal the victory for the Mountaineers. 

App State out gained UAB 403-338 in total offense and out rushed the Blazers 261-40. The Mountaineer defense also held UAB to 3-of-14 on third down conversions. 

Penalties also played a significant role in the game. App State was flagged 11 times for 130 yards while UAB was called for eight penalties that totaled 76 yards. 

Thomas finished the game completing 13-of-24 passes for 142 yards and two touchdowns. Junior wide receiver Jalen Virgil recorded team-highs with three receptions and 62 receiving yards. Junior running back Marcus Williams Jr provided a boost for the Mountaineers and picked up 54 yards on six carries. 

Defensively, the Mountaineers were led by senior linebacker Jordan Fehr, who racked up 11 total tackles, tying the record for most tackles in a New Orleans Bowl game.

Senior linebacker and Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year Akeem Davis-Gaither finished with nine total tackles, half a sack and 2 pass breakups.

Junior cornerback Shemar Jean-Charles recorded four tackles and caught the first interception of his career. Junior defensive lineman Tommy Dawkins had three tackles including two-and-a-half of App State’s six total sacks. 

App State’s final record of 13-1 is the best record in school and Sun Belt history. 

“When Coach Drinkwtiz left, I wanted this job. I was prepared for this job; I was ready for the job,” Clark said. “If you cut me open, I bleed black and gold. I’m just blessed to be part of it. I can’t wait until next year.”