It was Rick Stockstill’s 165th game as a college head coach.
It was Mark Ivey’s first, and maybe his only one.
But Appalachian State, under Ivey’s interim guidance, was the team playing with more poise and creativity Saturday, turning a slow start into a 45-13 rout of Stockstill and Middle Tennessee State in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Ivey, named interim coach of the Sun Belt Conference champion Mountaineers after Scott Satterfield departed for Louisville on Dec. 5, was passed over for promotion in favor of North Carolina State offensive coordinator Eli Drinkwitz.
Ivey, a former App State player and an assistant since 2012, was coaching Saturday not knowing where his future lies.
Certainly his reputation at his alma mater is cemented. The Mountaineers (11-2) left any distractions off the field in dominating the Blue Raiders (8-6) from Conference USA.
App State played exactly like a team that has now won bowl games in four straight years since it made the move up from the FCS in 2014.
Down 3-0 early, App State reeled off 24 straight points, 14 of them via option passes by wide receiver Malik Williams back-to-back possessions.
Meanwhile, Middle Tennessee was doing itself no good with six false-start penalties in the first half, part of 12 for 89 yards in the game the Blue Raiders.
Leading 24-6 at halftime, App State, which won its last five regular-season games, added two more TDs in the third quarter — the second on a 63-yard run by Camerun Peoples to open up a 38-6 lead.
It was a disappointing finish for Stockstill — the second-longest tenured coach in the Group of Five with 13 seasons — and also for his son, quarterback Brent Stockstill, a sixth-year senior and C-USA Player of the Year.
Brent Stockstill, who came into the game first among active FBS players in touchdown passes and third in yards, finished 25 of 37 passing for 320 yards.
But he couldn’t get the Blue Raiders into the end zone until late in the third quarter when App State was leading by 32.
An interception on the next possession gave the Raiders a flicker of hope. But Demetrius Taylor sacked Stockstill to force a punt, making the fourth quarter largely a matter of running out the clock.
App State wound up with a 448-392 edge in yards from scrimmage. Quarterback Zac Thomas was 15 of 22 for 177 yards and three TDs. He was named the game’s Most Valuable Player.
As dominant as the Mountaineers finished the game, it’s hard to believe how dominated they were in the first few minutes.
At one point, App State had been outgained 115 to minus-1 and had lost two turnovers in its own territory.
But thanks to a missed field goal and coming up with an interception of their own, App State was only down 3-0 — a deficit it erased with a scoring drive of its own following the pick and return to his 23 by Josh Thomas.
A 35-yard gainer from Zac Thomas to Jalen Virgil to the MTSU 29 was the big play of a possession that ended with Chandler Staton’s 22-yard field goal after the drive stalled at the 5.
But it mattered little, because the momentum had shifted to the Mountaineers.
That was especially evident on the next series.
Middle Tennessee elected to go for it on fourth-and-2 from its 43, but Zach Dobson was stopped short by Tyler Byrd.
Three plays later, from the MTSU 30, Zac Thomas lateraled across the field to Williams, who threw to Thomas Hennigan wide open in the end zone.
It was a play the Mountaineers successfully ran last season against New Mexico State but hadn’t tried this year.
There was more trickery to follow.
After a Tae Hayes interception of Stockstill, App State had first down at the MTSU 8.
This time, Zac Thomas lateraled to Williams, who then threw to Thomas for the TD to make it 17-3.
It was a variation of the Philly Special, which the Mountaineers had run in last year’s Dollar General Bowl victory against Toledo. Only that time, Williams saw an open field ahead of him and ran the ball in.
On this night, seemingly everything the Mountaineers tried worked.