The Blue Raiders had a tremendous amount of big plays today against Southern Mississippi, with Middle Tennessee leading the way with five scoring plays of thirty yards or more.
The Blue Raider offense moved nowhere on their first drive, despite cashing in on an early field goal attempt. Senior kicker Cody Clarke converted a 40-yard attempt.
A driving Golden Eagle offense was subsequently stopped at the MT 11 yard line and an interception was made by last week’s Conference USA Special Teams Player of the Week junior strong safety Kevin Byard.
Byard leads the team with four interceptions for the year.
“It’s a great testament to the coaches and we’re just going to keep fighting and keep playing hard and making plays,” Byard said.
A 59-yard kick return by senior Reggie Whatley set the Blue Raiders offense with good field position at the USM 36 yard line.
Sophomore running back Shane Tucker showed off his versatility on that drive, catching a pass, throwing a pass, and finally running one in for a 1-yard score.
The Golden Eagles answered right back on their next possession. However, Byard wreaked havoc once more, blocking the point after touchdown.
Early in the second quarter, sophomore quarterback Austin Grammer threw a 56-yard touchdown to a wide open receiver, Terry Pettis.
On the very next drive Southern Mississippi, fumbled in Middle Tennessee territory. The fumble was forced by junior free safety Xavier Walker, and recovered by senior middle linebacker Christian Henry.
The Blue Raiders capitalized on the mistake, and Tucker broke off a 44-yard run for a touchdown.
The USM offense kicked another field goal at the end of the half to bring the score to 24-12, with MTSU leading.
Southern Mississippi came out well in the second half, forcing a fumble on a scrambling Grammer. However, the USM offense didn’t do much with the ball in the third quarter, totaling 49 yards.
It was a back and forth contest in the fourth quarter. Early in the fourth quarter, Grammer threw his second touchdown on the day to senior receiver Devin Clarke. The Golden Eagles scored right back with a passing touchdown thrown by sophomore quarterback Nick Mullens. Whatley broke a 64-yard run to bring the score 37-18.
Mullens threw two more touchdowns in the fourth quarter to give the Golden Eagles a chance late in the game. With those two touchdowns, the game was a one-possession game with 27 seconds remaining.
However, it was too little too late for the Golden Eagles, and the Blue Raiders recovered the onside kick to close the game.
With a career-best 332 yard performance, Austin Grammer led the Blue Raider’s on Saturday.
“It feels great. They handed me the stat sheet and I thought I was around 250 again because when I’m out there I don’t really think about it, I just go out there and have fun, but when I saw 332 I just thought it was crazy,” Grammer said. My dad always harps on me all the time saying “When are you getting your 300?” so now I can say I [got] one. I wouldn’t mind having 100 yards as long as we win. I love this team.”
With a 3-0 start in Conference USA, Coach Stockstill is happy but says there is more to work on. “Getting a win was the objective coming in. I’m really proud of our team. We were really good, I thought, at times and then other times I don’t think we played as efficiently as we needed to,” Stockstill said.
The Blue Raiders now move to (4-2) on the season and look to continue their success next week on the road at Marshall.
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To contact sports editor Connor Grott, email firstname.lastname@example.org