No. 20 Appalachian State lost coach Eli Drinkwitz to Missouri earlier this month, but it didn't matter on Saturday in a 31-17 win over UAB in the New Orleans Bowl. The Mountaineers overcame a slow start to pull away en route to a 13-1 record -- the best season in program history.
Darrynton Evans was the star of the night. The 5-foot-11, 200-pound junior rushed for 157 yards, one touchdown and set the tone for a rushing attack that finished with 261 yards -- a New Orleans Bowl record. Quarterback Zac Thomas added 142 passing yards, two passing touchdowns and 24 yards on the ground.
One of Thomas' touchdown passes was one for the highlight reel. Wide receiver Thomas Hennigan went up over the back of a Blazers' defensive back to give the Mountaineers a two-touchdown lead and cap off a 21-point third quarter.
Make no mistake, this was a very important win for the Appalachian State program. Shawn Clark was promoted to lead it after Drinkwitz's departure, and he passed his first test with flying colors. The Mountaineers dug themselves a 14-point hole in the first eight plays of the first quarter but didn't panic. As has been the case for the majority of the season, they punched back and wore down the opponent with its speed, physicality and comfort within a system.
That system will seemingly stay in place as the program transitions to a new regime. Clark, a former offensive lineman and longtime assistant coach with the program, understands the culture in Boone, and didn't seem overwhelmed in his first game as a head coach on Saturday.
Will Appalachian State stay atop its perch as the class of the Sun Belt? All signs pointed toward "yes" on Saturday.