Sunday, December 16, 2018

Appalachian State: 2018 New Orleans Bowl Champions



NEW ORLEANS -- 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."

APPALACHIAN AIR

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.

THE TAKEAWAY

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.

QUOTABLE

"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."

UP NEXT

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.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Georgia Southern: 2018 Camellia Bowl Champions



MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- Tyler Bass found a way to top his last-play 50-yard field goal to end the first half.

Bass kicked a 40-yarder as time expired to give Georgia Southern a 23-21 victory over Eastern Michigan in the Camellia Bowl on Saturday night.

Shai Werts kept the winning drive alive with a 29-yard scramble on fourth-and-10. Bass came on for his third field goal after Wesley Fields' two runs pushed Georgia Southern (10-3) 7 yards closer.

"Right when Shai got that first down, I knew we had a chance to kick it," Bass said. "We've been preparing all week for it, all year for it. When I got out there, I didn't think about anything but the snap, the hold and me just kicking it through. That was it."

Georgia Southern completed the biggest turnaround in the Football Bowl Subdivision this season, going from 10 losses to 10 wins.

"I said at the beginning of the year, we're not sexy, we're just blue collar," coach Chad Lunsford said. "That showed tonight."

Eastern Michigan (7-6) had delivered its own big fourth-down play to take the lead for the first time.

Mike Glass threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Arthur Jackson with 3:33 left on fourth-and-4, followed by Chad Ryland's extra point.

"It was a great football game, and they're obviously a great football program and a great football team," Eastern Michigan coach Chris Creighton said. "They got it done in the end. Much as it rips our heart out to say, we do congratulate them, and (it was) an awesome football game."

Georgia Southern took over at its own 25 with a triple-option offense that attempted fewer passes than every FBS team but Army. Werts completed a 15-yard pass to tight end Ellis Richardson, but Georgia Southern fittingly covered most of the 52 yards with runs.

Werts ran for 79 yards and two first-half touchdowns while completing 4 of 7 passes for 33 yards to receive Most Valuable Player honors. His biggest play came on the fourth-and-10.

"I really should have thrown the ball. Ellis was wide open," Werts said. "Wesley had made a block on the linebacker. There was nobody in front of me so I just took off running."

Wesley Kennedy III gained 107 yards on nine carries.

Eastern Michigan's Glass completed 17 of 25 passes for 204 yards and three touchdowns, including a 75-yarder to Jackson on the opening play of the second half. He had missed the final two games of the regular season with a right leg injury and had only two previous starts.

Glass found Jackson in the back of the end zone to cap a 16-play, 75-yard drive that consumed more than six minutes.

"I was just going through my reads and came back to it late," Glass said. "The linebacker stepped up a little bit and I saw I could get it over their heads."

As it turns out, it left too much time on the clock.

THE TAKEAWAY

Georgia Southern: Ran for 331 yards on 58 carries. Finished the season without throwing an interception. Had its first 10-win season in FBS and second bowl win in as many tries.

Eastern Michigan: Had eight games decided by one score. Just missed its first eight-win season since going 10-2 in 1987.

TURNOVER RECORD

Georgia Southern set an NCAA FBS record with only five turnovers this season. The previous NCAA record was eight turnovers in a season by six teams, last done by LSU in 2017. The Eagles were the only FBS team that didn't throw an interception this season.

THEY SAID IT

"When we first got here this program was in shambles." Eastern Michigan defensive lineman Jeremiah Harris.

CLOSE CAMELLIAS

The five Camellia Bowls have been decided by a combined 17 points, including two winning, last-play field goals.

UP NEXT

Georgia Southern returns most of its offensive starters, including Werts, but loses leading rusher Wesley Fields and top tackler Joshua Moon. It will be the second full season for Lunsford, who led the team's rebound from a 2-10 season.

Eastern Michigan is set to lose six starters on both offense and defense, including quarterback Tyler Wiegers. Glass started three games and is a dual threat running and passing.

Fresno State: 2018 Las Vegas Bowl Champions



LAS VEGAS -- Running back Ronnie Rivers might be the embodiment of Fresno State's turnaround.

It wasn't guaranteed Rivers would be able to play this season after sustaining a foot injury in spring practice, and he was limited by a shoulder injury late in the year. But Rivers was there, leading the way as the Bulldogs completed their journey after going 1-11 two seasons ago.

Rivers rushed for 212 yards and two touchdowns to help No. 19 Fresno State beat Arizona State 31-20 in the Las Vegas Bowl on Saturday.

Anthoula Kelly had a 70-yard interception return for a touchdown, and Marcus McMaryion rushed for a touchdown and was 15-of-29 passing for 176 yards to help Fresno State (12-2) set a school record for wins in a season.

"It's a group that persevered," Fresno State coach Jeff Tedford said. "This group can be remembered as the only team in NCAA history that went from a double-digit losing season to back-to-back double-digit winning seasons."

Rivers put Fresno State back in front 24-20 with a 68-yard touchdown run up the middle in the third quarter and had a 5-yard scoring run in the fourth quarter to seal it. The Bulldogs were 2-0 against Pac-12 opponents this season, also beating UCLA 38-14 in September.

"We've been emphasizing on the word `finish' this past week and just going out there and finishing the job, getting this 12th win," said Rivers, who gained 156 yards on 15 carries in the second half and was honored as the game's most valuable player.

Fresno State was able to overcome turnovers on three consecutive drives in the second half, including when McMaryion threw the first of two interceptions to set up Brandon Ruiz's 44-yard field goal that gave Arizona State a 20-17 lead.

Dejonte O'Neal also fumbled off the pylon when reaching out to score on a throwback screen.

"But I think it says a lot about our team," Tedford said. "Our team plays together, believe in one another. They don't panic and they just keep playing."

Eno Benjamin rushed for 118 yards a one touchdown for the Sun Devils (7-6) in their third straight bowl loss. Manny Wilkins threw for 129 yards, with a 3-yard scoring pass to Kyle Williams and two interceptions.

First-year coach Herm Edwards put the loss on the failure to score points off takeaways, getting three points following the three Fresno State turnovers. Arizona State had 63 yards of offense in the second half.

"We made it a game we wanted to play in. We made it uncomfortable for them," Arizona State coach Herm Edwards said. "But then they got a score. We had to catch up a little bit and that's where they can really come after you."

Benjamin set the school single-season rushing record on a 13-yard run in the second quarter, finishing with 1,642 yards rushing to break Woody Green's mark of 1,565 yards in 1972.

Wilkins said he did not sustain an injury despite taking a hit to the knee on the final pass of his college career, which was intercepted by Juju Hughes.

"I'm good. I left it all out there, so that's all I needed to do," Wilkins said.

THE TAKEAWAY

Arizona State: The Sun Devils will be disappointed to finish with the exact same record as last season, but signs of progress under Edwards were evident. The defense found several young playmakers and played well against Fresno State without freshman linebacker Merlin Robertson. The offense, which played without star wide receiver N'Keal Harry after he declared for the NFL draft, needs to be upgraded to contend in the Pac-12.

Fresno State: The Bulldogs used a strong second half to complete its best season in school history. The senior-heavy offensive line led the way for Rivers, who will be the focal point of the offense in 2019. With a 22-6 record in two seasons at Fresno State, Tedford has reminded everyone why he is one of the best coaches in college football.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Fresno State will finish the season ranked for the third time in school history and should earn its highest final-ranking ever. Arizona State could merit consideration from voters in the preseason poll.

UP NEXT

Arizona State: The Sun Devils need to replace Wilkins, and with commitments from three top high school quarterbacks, it seems his successor might not have been in uniform at the Las Vegas Bowl. If Arizona State can find stability there quickly, the pieces look to be in place to challenge in the Pac-12 South.

Fresno State: The Bulldogs are looking at a major roster overhaul, losing McMaryion, four of five starting offensive linemen and four defensive starters. However, a return to the Mountain West Conference title game isn't an unreasonable expectation based on what Tedford has accomplished in his first two seasons at Fresno State.

Tulane: 2018 Cure Bowl Champions



ORLANDO, Fla. -- From a 2-5 start to Cure Bowl champions.

Tulane (7-6) capped a turnaround season under coach Willie Fritz with a 41-24 victory over Louisiana-Lafayette on Saturday, the Green Wave's first postseason win in 16 years.

Darius Bradwell rushed for a career-best 150 yards and two touchdowns and graduate transfer Justin McMillan improved to 5-1 as the team's starting quarterback by tossing a first-quarter TD pass to Terren Encalade and running for a late score in the 29th meeting in an intrastate rivalry that dates to 1911.

"Every game this season was kind of fourth-and-inches. Every one was tough," Fritz, completing his third year at the American Athletic Conference school, said. "Starting 2-5 and to come back and win this game is very special."

Bradwell scored on runs of 15 and 4 yards while setting bowl records for rushing attempts (35) and yards for Tulane (7-6), which won a bowl game for the first time since the 2002 Hawaii Bowl.

"We kept feeding him and he did a nice job getting vertical," Fritz said. "He's a hard guy to arm tackle at about 235 pounds."

The Green Wave also got a rushing TD from Amare Jones and outgained the Ragin' Cajuns 337 yards to 84 on the ground to improve to 23-6 all-time against the Rajun' Cajuns.

Lousiana-Lafayette coach Bill Napier said he didn't want the result to leave a "blackeye" on what the Sun Belt Conference runner-up accomplished in its first season under him.

"When our football team doesn't perform as well as we can it's 100 percent my responsibility," Napier said. "We're going to have the integrity to look in the mirror and adjust the things and fix the things we need to do."

The Ragin' Cajuns (7-7), coming off a loss to Appalachian State in the Sun Belt championship game, rallied from a 24-7 deficit to pull within three points on Jarrod Jackson's 15-yard TD reception with just over 10 minutes remaining.

McMillan put the game away, leading a 75-yard drive Bradwell finished with his second TD and later scoring himself on a 16-yard run that put Tulane up 41-24.

Andre Nunez completed 8 of 17 passes for 136 yards and one TD, however Louisiana-Lafayette's productive running tandem of Trey Ragas and Elijah Mitchell were not a factor after falling behind early.

"Very inefficient, in particular after the opening drive," which resulted in the Ragin' Cajuns taking a 7-0 lead on Raymond Calais' 38-yard touchdown run," Napier said.

"Today's outcome was a direct reflection who blocked better, who tackled better, who caught the ball better," Napier added. "There's nothing secret about what happened out there today."

Tulane won four of five down the stretch in the regular season to not only qualify for its first bowl berth in five years, but also finish with a winning record (5-3 AAC West Division) in league play for the first time since 2014.

McMillan was one of the keys, providing consistent quarterback play while throwing for more than 1,100 yards and accounting for 13 touchdowns -- nine passing and four rushing.

The graduate transfer from LSU, where he appeared on only two games from 2015-17, was 11 of 18 passing with one interception Saturday. He finished with 217 yards total offense -- 145 passing and 72 rushing.

THE TAKEAWAY

Louisiana-Lafayette: Ragas rushed for nearly 1,200 yards and Mitchell fell just shy of 1,000 this season, however neither was a factor after the Ragin' Cajuns fell behind by double-digits. Ragas was limited to 40 yards on 10 carries, and Mitchell had 26 yards on six attempts and scored on a 3-yard run in the third quarter.

"You can't start slow in a big game like this and expect to overcome things like that," tight end Matt Barnes said. "We showed some fight and had opportunities to win the game."

Tulane: The Green Wave rushed for 483 yards and finished with a Cure Bowl-record and season-best 28 first downs. Bradwell topped 100 yards for the third time, finishing the season with 1,134 yards and 11 rushing TDs.

UP NEXT

Louisiana-Lafayette: Nunez is a senior, however Ragas, Mitchell and Calas are all underclassmen for the Ragin' Cajuns, who moving forward have a solid foundation to build on Napier, who inherited a team that went 5-7 last season.

Tulane: McMillan has a year of eligibility remaining, as do Bradwell and Corey Dauphine, who combined for 1,928 yards and 18 TDs rushing. The Green Wave have never made bowl appearances in consecutive seasons, but will enter 2019 with heightened expectations after their strong finish.

Utah State: 2018 New Mexico Bowl Champions



ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Utah State walked into the New Mexico Bowl with one of its best records in school history but uncertainty. Its head coach, Matt Wells, left to take the Texas Tech job. Interim coach Frank Maile had to prepare the Aggies with an army of graduate assistants and an announcement a new coach was coming next month.

North Texas, meanwhile, was coming into Albuquerque with experienced coach Seth Littrell and highly touted quarterback Mason Fine.

The Aggies pushed those distractions aside Saturday.

Jordan Love threw for 359 yards and four touchdowns and Jalen Greene had six catches for 151 yards and a score to help Utah State rout North Texas 52-13.

Maile directed the Aggies (11-2) even after Utah State announced former head coach Gary Andersen would return. However, Andersen opted not to attend the bowl game and let Maile finish what he started.

Love completed 21 of 43 passes with one interception. D.J. William had two interceptions, helping Utah State ground high-flying North Texas (9-4).

Aaren Vaughns caught two passes for 109 yards and two scores for the Aggies, Gerold Bright ran for 103 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries, and Darwin Thompson added 93 yards on 21 carries.

Maile said he did his best to get the offense ready. The rest was up the players, he said.

"The guys have lot of efforts to doing their jobs," Maile said. The defense is set up for everybody to make plays."

Love said receivers were able to get open, find space and get yards after the catch. "We've been doing that all season," he said.

Fine was injured in the first quarter, and the Mean Green ended up using four quarterbacks. Jalen Guyton had four catches for 103 yards a score.

Littrell said Utah State was the best team the Mean Green faced all season. "We didn't have enough in us today to make more plays to have success," Littrell said.

When Fine came up limping following a nine-yard run in the first quarter, the whole complexion of game changed. "I don't ever want to put him in harm's way and he is so tough," Littrell said. "He wants to do everything he can for his teammates. But as the head coach, sometimes enough is enough."

After the game, North Texas officials announced that Fine had a severe left strained hamstring. This is the second time in three years that Fine most of or all of the Mean Green's bowl game after a shoulder injury kept him out of the 2016 Heart of Dallas Bowl.

Littrell said Fine left with a "pretty bad" hamstring injury but couldn't give more details.

Cornerback Kemon Hall said it was painful to see his teammates injured but players are trained to always be on standby. "You've always got to stay ready," he said. "You hate to see guys do bad or people get hurt."

THE TAKEAWAY

UTAH STATE: Maile was tasked with preparing the Aggies with a staff of graduate assistants in coordinator spots. Players had to handle the distractions and constant questions over the future leadership of the Aggies and how it would affect their chances in the bowl game.

NORTH TEXAS: Coach Seth Littrell announced this week he would stay with the Mean Green to build on what he started when he took over a team that was 1-11 in 2015. Since then, he has a 23-17 but has yet to win a bowl game in three straight appearances.

UP NEXT

UTAH STATE: Andersen returns as head coach and takes over a program that is rising. Sophomore quarterback Love and junior running back Bright are returning to build on an offense that broke a school record in touchdowns.

NORTH TEXAS: Fine is expected to return next season as quarterback for his senior year. Many of his favorite receiving targets also are expected to return and they won't have to adjust to a new head coach after all.

North Carolina A&T: 2018 Celebration Bowl/HBCU National Champions



ATLANTA -- Lamar Raynard passed for 292 yards and two touchdowns and Malik Wilson returned a kickoff for the game-sealing touchdown Saturday as North Carolina A&T held off Alcorn State to win the Celebration Bowl 24-22, and the Aggies captured their second straight HBCU national championship and third in four years.

The Celebration Bowl kicks off the bowl season by matching up the champions of two historically black leagues, the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and the Southwestern Athletic Conference, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Raynard, a senior who finished his career with a 35-2 record as a starter, did most of his damage in the first half with touchdown passes of 17 yards to Zachary Leslie and 27 yards to Elijah Bell as North Carolina A&T (10-2) built a 17-3 lead in the second quarter.

Alcorn State (9-4) stormed back in the third quarter. De'Shawn Waller tallied 116 of his 167 rushing yards on just four carries in the period while playing about six miles east of where he grew up.

The Braves pulled within 17-16 on a 30-yard touchdown run by quarterback Noah Johnson, the SWAC Offensive Player of the Year, and a 29-yard field goal with 51 seconds left in the quarter. Johnson rushed for 120 yards and passed for 128.

Wilson countered immediately, fielding the short kickoff on the left side of the field. He took off diagonally toward the middle and then cut up the right sideline for a 79-yard score.

It was the senior's school-record fourth kickoff return for a touchdown this season alongside scores of 98, 99 and 100 yards.

Johnson scored on a 59-yard option keeper early in the fourth quarter to pull the Braves within 24-22.

Johnson rolled out on the ensuing two-point conversion try, and his pass to a sliding Chris Harris was ruled incomplete. Alcorn State punted on its next possession with 5:55 remaining and didn't get the ball back as North Carolina A&T put together a game-ending 11-play drive.

TAKEAWAYS

North Carolina A&T: Other than the clock-eating final drive, the Aggies were stymied on offense in the second half, with Wilson's kickoff return bailing them out. The Aggies entered the game ranked No. 1 in the HBCU poll and No. 11 in FCS.

Alcorn State: The Braves bullied North Carolina A&T in the second half, with 258 of their 328 total rushing yards on 20 carries. They flipped the script from when these teams met in the first Celebration Bowl in 2015. In that one, they lost 41-34 when North Carolina A&T running back Tarik Cohen, now with the Chicago Bears, rushed for 295 yards.

MISSING MAN

Alcorn State played without starting wide receiver Dayall Harris, who did not make the trip to Atlanta for disciplinary reasons. The senior was the Braves' fourth-leading receiver during the regular season with 28 catches in 11 games, with four touchdowns and a team-leading 15.8-yard average per reception.

UP NEXT

North Carolina A&T: The Aggies will replace at least seven starters on defense and at least eight on offense, including Raynard, the entire line, tight end Leroy Hill and running back Marquell Cartwright before opening the 2019 season at home against Elon and then traveling 50 miles to play at Duke.

Alcorn State: The Braves will lose at least four defensive and three offensive starters ahead of their season-opening trip to Southern Mississippi, which will be followed by a game at McNeese State.