Blue Raiders seal Bowl Eligibility with Senior Day win


Photo by Austin Lewis, MTSU Sidelines

It was one of those games for Middle Tennessee (6-5, 5-2 C-USA), with multiple players hitting new highs and a team effort sealing bowl eligibility with a 41-7 win over North Texas (1-10, 1-5 C-USA).

The key for the Blue Raiders was starting early and moving methodically down the field. Austin Grammer sealed the first touchdown for Middle Tennessee, a 19-yard scamper that put them in the drivers seat moving forward.

Brent Stockstill went above and beyond in the first quarter, finishing the first session going 13-for-13 with 154 yards and a touchdown. Stockstill’s 14 straight completions (continued from last week) was the third longest streak in school history. Stockstill finished 27-38 with 322 yards and three touchdowns.

“It isn’t (easy). That was coaching staff and the receivers,” Stockstill said about his first quarter performance. “I got the ball out of my hand pretty quick, we had some nice designed plays. I don’t know exactly what it was there, but we went awhile without a ball in the ground.”

Stockstill didn’t stop after the first quarter. The redshirt freshman also sealed the record for the most touchdown passes in a single season in school history with 26, surpassing Dwight Dasher’s 23 set in 2009. With his 322 passing yards, Stockstill also passed former Southern Miss QB Austin Davis for the most passing yards by a freshman in conference history.

The 322 yards passing marked Stockstill’s seventh game with over 300 yards this season, tying Wes Counts, who threw for over 300 yards seven times in his entire career.

Senior Ed’Marques Batties found success again Saturday, which was a big day for him, being Senior Day and also his birthday. Batties finished with just 64 yards, but he secured another touchdown, his 13th of the season.

“It was a good day. I wanted to go out and get the win,” Batties said. “Everybody played big, and Brent stepped up and did his thing.”

Saturday was special for multiple seniors, being their last time playing at Floyd Stadium. None approached the game larger than Kevin Byard, who entered the game against North Texas just one interception shy of the school record for career INT’s.

Byard secured the record in the third quarter of Saturday’s game, eclipsing the record of 17 set by James Griffin (1979-1982), and it’s hard to speculate whether any one left the field with a bigger smile than the senior.

“It was very rewarding to get it on my last home game, a special moment to get the interception in front of my family and friends,” Byard said. “We have some of the best fans in the nation, the first thing I thought of was going to see my dad, I gave him the ball I got the interception with. It was just one of those special moments for me.”

The win was crucial for Middle Tennessee, who last year struggled down the stretch, limping to 6-6 and ultimately missed out on a bowl game. Saturday’s win was different, being the third straight win, putting the team at 6-5 and setting the Blue Raiders up for a strong closing stretch with the possibility of a fourth straight win to close out the season.

“Before the Marshall game, after the bye week, we took it upon ourselves to step this up one more notch,” Byard said. “I’m proud of everyone, from the freshman to the seniors. I’m just grateful to be a part of this team. We gotta get to a bowl game, that’s the most important thing.”

The scariest part of Saturday’s win came late in the third quarter as freshman running back Desmond Anderson took a hard hit on a carry. Anderson was tended to immediately from members of both training staffs and was carted off the field on a stretcher. As he left, Anderson gave thumbs ups to the crowd, a positive sign, as the back was taken to Vanderbilt Hospital. No other details have emerged.

“I know he’s at Vanderbilt Hospital,” head coach Rick Stockstill said about the status of Anderson. “He had movement in all of his extremities on the field. We’re just praying right now that everything is going to be okay.”

The win was a testament to closing for Stockstill and Middle Tennessee, who in November are 21-9 in their last 30 games and have won 11 of the last 14. The Blue Raiders have also won 11 straight over C-USA foes at Floyd Stadium.

“It’s been a heck of a comeback,” Stockstill said about getting that all important sixth win. “Just talked in the locker room tonight about finishing the season now, we’ve got one to go. We gotta continue to fight and compete, and give it everything we’ve got, one more time.”

Middle Tennessee finishes out the regular season next Saturday with a trip to San Antonio to take on UTSA. Kickoff is scheduled for 1:30 p.m.

For more Blue Raider sports, follow us at www.mtsusidelines.com, on Facebook at MTSU Sidelines and on Twitter at @Sidelines_Sport.

To contact Interim Sports Editor Connor Ulrey, email sportseditor@mtsusidelines.com.

 

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