In front of 24,911 fans, the eighth largest in school history, Austin Grammer and the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (2-1) used three overtimes to earn a tough 50-47 victory over the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers.
MT quarterback Austin Grammer led the charge for the Blue Raiders, completing 17 of his 28 pass attempts for 218 yards and a touchdown, along with 19 rushing attempts for 125 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Grammer proved to bounce back after a heartbreaking loss at Minnesota last week, extending plays with his feet and not turning the ball over.
“The thing [Grammer] did the best tonight was protect the ball,” MT head coach Rick Stockstill said. “To me that’s the difference in the game.”
It was a back and forth contest in the 64th all-time meeting between the two teams, coming down to the very last play when Grammer found Ed’Marques Batties for the game-winning 25-yard touchdown.
“They had been playing man coverage the whole game,” Stockstill said. “[Batties] effort after the catch was more impressive to me than the catch itself.”
Western Kentucky (1-2) had just as much offensive firepower Saturday night, tallying 718 total yards of offense. Quarterback Brandon Doughty equaled Grammer’s performance, completing 43 of his 66 passing attempts for 593 yards, four touchdowns and one interception.
“It looked like they were trying to run the ball on us early on, but we stopped the run,” Stockstill said. “When we stopped them on the goal line in the third quarter, we had a couple other stops when they tried to run the ball on us. We gave up a bunch of yards and at times we didn’t look real good on the back end. We need to clean up some stuff and get better.”
The Blue Raiders ran only nine plays in the first quarter, but managed to outscore the Hilltoppers 14-3 in the first stanza. Grammer put up the first points of the game, after he eluded several Hilltopper defenders on a 59-yard touchdown run.
The following drive, Western Kentucky would answer with a field goal to cut the MT lead to 7-3. On MT’s next possession, Grammer’s first pass of the game would go for a 52-yard gain to sophomore running back Shane Tucker.
Junior running back Jordan Parker would carry in a seven yard touchdown to give MT a healthy lead to start the second quarter.
Even with a strong first quarter for the Blue Raiders, the Hilltoppers would answer with 21 unanswered points in the second quarter to bring the game to a 24-24 tie at the halftime break.
“I told our team at halftime, ‘In 2012, this game was tied up at halftime. The tougher team won it in the fourth quarter, in the second half,’” said Coach Stockstill, referring to MT’s 34-29 victory over WKU in 2012. “And I told them the same thing. It’s going to come down to toughness. It’s 24-24 at the half, and the tougher team is going to find a way to win it.”
With 9:25 left in the game and MT holding a 31-24 advantage, Western Kentucky would even the game at 31-31 following a 65-yard drive, capped off by a 19-yard touchdown pass from Doughty to tight end Mitchell Henry.
MT retaliated with a 17 play, 68 yard drive that resulted in a 29-yard field goal by Cody Clark with 2:29 left in the game. WKU came out aggressively in their final possession of regulation, but in the end settled for a 24-yard field goal after a defensive stand by the Blue Raiders to send the contest into overtime.
In the third overtime period, the Hilltoppers lined up to go for it on fourth-and-one, but picked up a false start penalty that led to a field goal attempt instead. WKU converted the 27-yard field goal, giving the Hilltoppers a 47-44 lead with the Blue Raiders offense needing a field goal to stay alive.
The Blue Raiders were thinking touchdown though, as Grammer connected with Batties for the game-winning 25-yard score to push Middle Tennessee past Western Kentucky.
“I can’t tell you enough how proud I am of this football team and how hard they competed tonight,” said Coach Stockstill. “We beat a heck of a football team tonight. We’re first in the conference now.”
Middle Tennessee’s next contest will be against in-state rival Memphis Sept. 20. Kickoff is scheduled for 6 p.m. CT and will be broadcast on ESPN3.
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To contact sports editor Connor Grott, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Connor Gott contributed to this report.