NEW ORLEANS - The 2018 season came to a tough close for Middle Tennessee on Saturday.
The Blue Raiders (8-6) were invited to the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl for the second time in program history and went home with a 45-13 loss to Appalachian State (11-2).
"Appalachian State has a good football team and had a good win against us tonight," MT head coach Rick Stockstill said. "I said it early going in that we'd have to be able to run the ball, and we never could establish a running game ... and we didn't tackle as good as we needed to.
"Overall, they just whooped us."
Middle Tennessee's second trip to the New Orleans Bowl didn't prove nearly as fruitful as its first, especially offensively.
In their first trip to The Big Easy in 2009, the Raiders racked up 450 total yards -243 rushing - en route to a 42-32 win over Southern Miss. It was their first bowl win as an FBS member.
On Saturday, the blue and white were able to force three turnovers while only committing two, but lost the total yards battle 448-392. Only 62 of their yards came off 35 rushing attempts (1.8-yard average).
They were also guilty of 12 penalties for 89 total yards, six of which were false starts on the offense.
"You have to give them credit, they didn't give us much breathing room," Rick Stockstill said. "If you can't run the ball, especially in the red zone, that makes it tough."
Things started out promising for Middle Tennessee thanks to its defense.
Appalachian State's first two drives ended with an interception then a fumble after just 13 combined yards gained, setting MT up with great field position at the Mountaineer 46 then 21.
The problem was the Blue Raiders couldn't capitalize with touchdowns.
Redshirt sophomore kicker Crews Holt put MT on the board with a 24-yard field goal to end the first drive, but the second was halted by the first of two interceptions thrown by Raider quarterback Brent Stockstill.
"They're a really good defense, and we didn't play too good," the southpaw signal caller said. "It was just a poor performance ... and they got after us all night."
The first quarter ended with Middle Tennessee leading 3-0, but it didn't stay that way for long.
Appalachian State rattled off 24-unanswered points before Holt hit his second field goal to end the first half with a 24-6 score.
The Mountaineers added 21 points after halftime, while MT scored once on a 43-yard pass from Brent Stockstill to Isaiah Upton.
Brent Stockstill, MT's all-time leading passer, finished the game 25-of-37 for 330 yards, one TD and two INTs. His historic career ends with 12,485 passing yards and 106 touchdowns, good for 28th and 20th all-time in NCAA FBS history, respectively.
"It wasn't the way we wanted to go out, but we accomplished some pretty special things," he said. "We had a special group and a special coach. I hate that it ended this way, but I love those guys to death."
Defensively, the Blue Raiders were led by six tackles and two interceptions from sophomore Reed Blankenship. He finished the year with 107 tackles to lead the team and four picks.
Redshirt seniors Darryl Randolph and Darius Harris, who both played in their 53rd career game to set Middle Tennessee's all-time record, finished with six and five tackles, respectively.
Harris and Randolph were two of 23 seniors on this year's team. The group is the first in program history to play in four straight bowls.
"When I got here, they showed me the way and were here with open arms, and that's something you want as a freshman," Blankenship said. "Now, as a sophomore, you get to grow with them and actually play with them and feel comfortable around them. That means a lot.
"They're great leaders and taught me a lot ... I'm really going to miss them."