Sun Belt's belt

Appalachian State running back Darrynton Evans shows off his Sun Belt belt he earned by being named the Sun Belt Championship Game’s Most Valuable Player. He and his App State teammates play Middle Tennessee in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl on Dec. 15. To his right are, from left, Appalachian State Chancellor Dr. Sheri Everts and Appalachian State Athletic Director Doug Gillian.

BOONE — Sun Belt champion Appalachian State will face Middle Tennessee of Conference USA on Dec. 15 in the 2018 R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl.

Televised by ESPN, the game in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome will begin at 9 p.m. ET (8 p.m. CT). The matchup was announced Dec. 2 as the complete 2018-19 bowl schedule was revealed.

App State (10-2) earned a Top 25 ranking this season en route to winning its third straight conference title thanks to a 30-19 victory Saturday against Louisiana in the inaugural Sun Belt Championship Game.

Middle Tennessee (8-5) lost 27-25 to Alabama-Birmingham in the Conference USA Championship Game Dec. 1. Middle Tennessee, which won CUSA’s East Division with a 7-2 record, faced a tough non-conference schedule, losing to SEC programs Vanderbilt, Georgia and Kentucky this season.

“Once our guys found out, if you win the championship this year, you’re going to New Orleans, that fired everybody up,” App State head coach Scott Satterfield said in a statement.”You’re playing in a primetime slot on ESPN, so everybody is excited and pumped about going to a different city.”

This is the Mountaineers’ fourth straight bowl appearance in as many years eligible after transitioning from the FCS to FBS level, joining Marshall as the second program to accomplish that feat.

Middle Tennessee will also be making its fourth straight bowl appearance. App State is the only team in history to win bowl games in its first three years after the transition to FBS, having claimed Camellia Bowl victories over Ohio in 2015 (31-29) and Toledo in 2016 (31-28) before it won the Dollar General Bowl over Toledo in 2017 (34-0).

App State ranks third nationally with 148.1 passing yards allowed per game, while Middle Tennessee has a father-son combo with its head coach, Rick Stockstill, and senior quarterback Brent Stockstill.

Brent Stockstill is No. 1 among active FBS quarterbacks with 105 career touchdown passes and No. 2 with 12,165 career passing yards. This season, he has thrown 28 touchdown passes and eight interceptions while averaging 247.2 yards through the air per game. Leading receiver Ty Lee has 67 catches for 828 yards and seven touchdowns.

“We’ll face a great opponent in Middle Tennessee,” Satterfield said. “When you are fortunate to play in a bowl game, you know that the other team is going to be a quality opponent that will also be fired up about playing one more time. We will get to work this week on scouting Middle Tennessee and look forward to what our guys will be able to experience next week down in the Big Easy.”

In addition to its high ranking in pass defense by yardage, the Mountaineers are No. 14 with 15 interceptions this season and No. 2 with 71 interceptions in the last four seasons. Junior cornerback Clifton Duck has 12 interceptions in his three seasons, and Appalachian got title-game interceptions Saturday from Tae Hayes and Josh Thomas.

It will be a matchup of high-scoring offenses, as App State averages 36.7 points (20th nationally) and Middle Tennessee averages 29.2. The Blue Raiders rush for 133.1 yards per game, and the Mountaineers are allowing only 131.1.

A Middle Tennessee defense that allows 25.3 points, 159.8 rushing yards and 213.1 passing yards per game will attempt to slow down an App State offense led by sophomore quarterback Zac Thomas, the Sun Belt’s Offensive Player of the Year, and sophomore running back Darrynton Evans, the MVP of the Sun Belt Championship Game.

Evans had 218 all-purpose yards Saturday (111 rushing yards along with a 97-yard kickoff return) as he increased his season total to 1,079 rushing yards even though he didn’t become the primary back until Jalin Moore suffered a season-ending injury in the fifth game.

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