The Blue Raiders celebrated Senior Night as they became bowl eligible on a late touchdown against Florida Atlantic Saturday night, edging the Owls 35-34.
This is the third straight year the team has become bowl eligible, and the sixth time in nine seasons under coach Rick Stockstill.
Senior running back Reggie Whatley dominated in his last game at Floyd Stadium with 19 carries, 190 rushing yards and three touchdowns.
This was a career game for Whatley, as he had the most rushing yards in any game of his career. Whatley also moved to eighth in school history for career all-purpose yards following his 321 all-purpose yardage effort against the Owls.
“I give my thanks to God and my teammates,” Whatley said. “It was my last home game on the field with my brothers. It definitely got emotional.”
It was ultimately wide receiver Marcus Henry who played the role of hero, finishing with six receptions, 92 receiving yards and the game-winning touchdown.
Henry was later named senior player of the game, a touching performance in his final game at Floyd Stadium.
“It was tough, but at the end of the day, we knew it was the last time getting to play in front of the home fans,” Henry said. “It was a big game for me. I got a little choked up, but I didn’t cry. I just knew it was time to get the job done and put in work. We had a good night.”
Although the Blue Raiders ended up winning in exciting fashion, Middle Tennessee had been outplayed for a majority of the game.
Florida Atlantic finished with 540 total yards on 76 offensive plays, while MTSU finished with 470 total yards on 73 plays. The Owls also finished the game with a much higher time of possession than the Blue Raiders (32:54 to 27:06).
Middle Tennessee also gave up two key turnovers in the second half that looked to be costly. The first turnover was committed by sophomore quarterback Austin Grammer deep in MTSU territory.
Junior quarterback Jaquez Johnson capitalized on the mistake, throwing a 23-yard touchdown pass to receiver Kalib Woods.
On the next drive for the Blue Raider offense, they drove the ball into enemy territory, only to give the ball away for the second time in the quarter.
Grammer threw a bubble screen to Ed’Marques Batties who tried to lateral the ball to another Blue Raider, only to see it fall into the hands of FAU linebacker Jerrad Ward.
Florida Atlantic charged down the field for 52 yards, but were ultimately held to a 19-yard field goal that gave FAU a 27-14 lead.
Whatley came back with a 75-yard touchdown run that brought the game within reach for the Blue Raiders. The Owls answered back late in the fourth with a touchdown pass to tight end Alex Deleon to bring the game to 34-21 FAU.
The Blue Raiders came right back on the next drive with a quick one minute, 35 second drive capped off by a nine-yard run by Whatley.
Middle Tennessee would stop FAU on their next drive, using all of their time outs. The Blue Raiders needed to move the ball from their 30 yard line in the final three minutes to win the game.
The Blue Raiders came out running on their last drive, which was a dangerous move considering they had no way to stop the clock.
But, being accustomed to running the no-huddle offense was key, along with the fact the FAU defense seemingly could not make the necessary stops.
“I wouldn’t say we were surprised. We were in our base defense, anticipating that. Three minutes is a lot of time so we weren’t really caught off gaurd,” Florida Atlantic Coach Charlie Partridge said. “I give all the credit to Middle Tennessee at the end of the game. Their running back played really well and that was the difference.”
The Blue Raiders drove the necessary 70 yards, only to win the game on a 12-yard touchdown pass to Henry. With the win, the team clinches bowl eligibility.
“I’m proud of what we are doing here. We’ve got good players. They are guys that play hard and do it the right way,” Stockstill said. “When you look at it, six out of nine, five out of the last six is pretty good. I’m really proud of it.”
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