NEW ORLEANS — No. 20 Appalachian State found itself in a unusual position in the New Orleans Bowl — down by two touchdowns.
Alabama-Birmingham took a 14-point lead by scoring two touchdowns on eight plays in the first quarter. Appalachian State regrouped and answered by scoring 31 of the game’s next 34 points.
It was enough scoring for the Mountaineers to claim a 31-17 victory in the Superdome on Dec. 21. App State closed the season with a 13-1 overall record and its fifth-straight bowl victory.
The scores helped new head coach Shawn Clark capture his first victory in charge of the program. Clark was promoted from assistant head coach to be head coach after Eli Drinkwitz was hired to be the new head coach at Missouri.
App State’s offense shook off a slow start to rush for 261 yards compared to just 40 for UAB. App State’s offense also rolled up 403 total yards, but the Mountaineers were slowed by committing 11 penalties for 130 yards in losses.
The Mountaineers made up for their slow start by setting Sun Belt Conference season records by scoring 543 points and 73 touchdowns.
Quarterback Zac Thomas tossed two touchdown passes to receiver Thomas Hennigan, and Darrynton Evans gave the Mountaineers a 17-14 lead, their first of the game, by scooping a Thomas fumble on a fourth-down sneak and racing 31 yards for a touchdown.
Individually, Evans finished with 157 yards rushing against the Blazers (9-5) and Thomas connected on 13-of-24 passes for 142 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.
Defensively, linebacker Jordan Fehr collected 11 tackles and an Elijah Diarrassouba sack inside the UAB 1-yard line that nearly went for a safety.
Diarrassouba’s sack of Johnston was one of five the Mountaineers collected.
The Mountaineers’ defense allowed two touchdown passes by UAB quarterback Tyler Johnston III, who completed 22-of-34 passes for 298 yards and two touchdowns despite being hampered by a knee injury that kept his status for playing in the questionable range.
Appalachian State’s offense got off to a slow start, but the Mountaineers got a 34-yard field goal by Chandler Staton set up by Marcus Williams Jr. runs of 20 and 27 yards.
App State benefitted from key breaks, including an illegal leaping penalty during a missed Staton field goal that was converted into a touchdown on a 17-yard Hennigan touchdown catch despite being well-covered on the play.
Alabama-Birmingham tied the game 17-17 in the third quarter, but Nick Hampton sacked Johnston III and forced a fumble that linebacker Trey Cobb scooped and returned 24 yards for a touchdown. It gave App State a 24-17 lead that was increased to 31-17 on a Thomas rollout pass on a fourth-and-3 he sent to Hennigan for a 27-yard touchdown.
The score was App State’s third touchdown in the third quarter that when UAB tried to answer, App State held the Blazers on a fourth down conversion attempt and took over possession.
Appalachian State 31, Alabama-Birmingham 17
Appalachian State 0 10 21 0 — 31
Alabama-Birmingham 14 0 3 0 — 17
UAB—Pittman 25 pass from Johnston III (Vogel kick)
UAB—Watkins 25 pass from Johnston III (Vogel kick)
App—Staton FG 34
App—Hennigan 17 pass from Thomas (Staton kick)
App—Evans 31 run (Staton kick)
UAB—Vogel FG 49
App—Cobb 24 fumble recovery (Staton kick)
App—Hennigan 27 pass from Thomas (Staton kick)
First downs 20 20
By rushing 9 5
By passing 6 13
By penalty 5 2
Rushes-yards 40-261 33-40
Avg. per rush 6.5 1.2
Passing yards 142 298
Passes 13-25-0 22-34-1
Avg. per att. 5.7. 8.8
Avg. per comp. 10.9 13.5
Total plays-yards 65-403 67-338
Avg. per play 6.2 5.0
Fumbles-lost 1-0 2-2
Penalties-yards 11-130 8-76
Punts-avg. 7-44.7 5-42.4
Net avg. 39.0 41.6
Time of poss. 32:57 27:03
Third down conv. 3-14 3-14
Fourth down conv. 2-2 2-3
Rushing: App State—Evans 19-157, Williams Jr. 6-54, Thomas 9-28, Harrington 3-27, Williams 2-(-8); UAB—Brown 14-39, Brown Jr. 3-11, Stanley 1-9, Watkins 1-(-1), TEAM 2-(-2), Johnston 12-(7).
Passing: App State—Thomas 13-24-0 142, Williams Jr. 0-1-0 0; Johnston III 22-34-1 298, Watson 0-0-0 0.
Receiving: App State—Virgil 3-62, Hennigan 3-50, Williams 3-19, Evans 3-5, Harrington 1-6; UAB—Watkins 10-159, Grossman 4-20, Pittman 3-59, Brown Jr. 2-20, Davis 1-17, Turner 1-17, Stanley 1-6.