Photo by Meagan White/Sidelines archive
Saturday, Middle Tennessee and North Texas played their respective opponents over 814 miles apart. Conversely, the poor starts, the resiliency shown and the game’s outcomes were nearly identical.
The Blue Raiders and the Mean Greens were each down three scores during their respective games last weekend. With all odds against them, the two teams rose to the occasion and won on a defensive stand on the final play of the game.
With nine minutes left to go in the third quarter, MTSU found themselves trailing Louisiana Tech 27-7. At times like this, teams can fold and accept that it’s just not their day.
Not only did the Blue Raiders continue to fight, but they fought to win.
“I’ve always said that character, attitude and competitiveness is more important to me than talent,” said Head Coach Rick Stockstill. “There will be times you face adversity throughout a game, and you have to have strong character and great leadership in your players to overcome that adversity.”
When the Blue Raiders faced adversity, they met it head first. With 7:40 seconds left in the third quarter, Stockstill dumped off a pass to I’Tavius Mathers in the flat who hit his blocks cleanly and streaked down the sideline for a 37-yard score.
Once Cannon Rooker knocked down a 33-field goal and the defense tallied multiple stops, Mathers went on to score twice more from the ground to give him the team its first lead and earn him his second straight C-USA Offensive Player of the Week Award.
LA Tech’s offense would score once more to take the lead back with minutes to go, but MTSU’s offense wouldn’t be denied. Stockstill connected to Ty Lee who broke three tackles on his way to the end zone.
Down by four with little time on the clock, the Bulldogs drove the length of the field and had a shot at the end zone on fourth and goal. However, Mike Minter was there to break up the pass and give the Blue Raiders its third win of the season.
“To have the mental and physical toughness to keep competing play after play and score after score, it’s why I said after that game it’s as satisfying a win that I have ever been a part of because of the competitive spirit those guys played with throughout the game,” said Stockstill. “It speaks volumes to their character, their attitude and their never-give-up spirit.”
As MTSU’s spirit and drive were lifted to new heights, the same was for North Texas.
Faced with similar adversity, the Mean Green fell to a 17-0 gap to open up the game at Rice University. Earlier this season, the team was faced with the same scenario in the first quarter against Southern Methodist University and ended up getting beat 34-21.
This time around, UNT buckled down and started to chip away at the lead. Before the end of the second quarter, Mean Green defense had stood tall and allowed their offense to find their rhythm, trailing just 17-14 going into halftime.
The rest of the game would prove to be dog fight, as the two teams exchanged scores all the way until the end of regulation where they found themselves headed to overtime.
In the first overtime of Head Coach Seth Litrell’s career at UNT, each team found the end zone on the ground.
The Mean Greens got the ball in the second overtime and wasted no time. Scoring his second touchdown of the day, running back Ivery Willy plunged into the end zone, giving the lead to North Texas where it would stay for the remainder end of the game.
On the ensuing possession, Mean Green defense stuffed the Owls running back Darik Dillard on fourth-and-one, giving North Texas is first road and conference win of the season.
“The thing we talk about the most is adversity’s going to come in every game,” said Coach Litrell in a Monday morning press conference. “It may come on the first play; it may come in the first quarter; it may come in the first half, I don’t know and it may stick with you a little bit. The biggest thing is how you overcome that adversity as a football team, and turn the momentum around and flip the adversity back on them.
“At the end of the day, one team is not going to be able to handle it as well as the other. And when it comes down to it, you’re probably going to win the football if you overcome adversity better than the other team.”
There is no doubt that the week five matchup in Denton will be a grudge match where both teams’ will to win will be on full display.
The Blue Raiders are 8-6 all-time against the Mean Greens and boast three wins in Denton. However, the team is 0-2 at the newly built Apogee Stadium.
But as for Saturday’s contest, the victor may be decided on whichever team is best able to overcome the adversity.