Photo by Devin P. Grimes / MTSU Sidelines
After a dominant 37-17 victory over Florida International, the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (3-3, 1-1) find themselves in a deadlock in the Conference USA east division after their first homecoming win in three years.
The last few homecomings have provided the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders with close games, last-second wins and memories that neither team will ever forget. Did this year’s live up to the ones of years past? Let’s take a look.
2016: Western Kentucky
Let’s just get this one out of the way. This was a phenomenal homecoming game, although it didn’t go in favor of the home team.
The last two times these teams played in Murfreesboro, there was a total of five overtime periods played. Not only that, but they were games that went back and forth.
On MTSU’s side of this game, Richie James lit up the Hilltopper secondary for a school-record 16 receptions for 223 yards (another school record) and two touchdowns. This set laid the groundwork for a day in which MT put up 605 total yards of offense.
The problem? WKU’s offense was just as deadly, as they recorded 521 yards of their own.
Current Titan Taywan Taylor added 12 catches and 197 yards of his own, and Western blocked a Canon Rooker extra point in the second overtime to seal the win.
While not a game most Blue Raider fans want to remember, it’s one that no one will ever forget.
2014: University of Alabama – Birmingham
Three homecoming games ago was the last time these two teams met, as UAB didn’t have a football program in 2015 and 2016.
That will change this year when the Blue Raiders head to Birmingham to take on the Blazers, but back in 2014, these two teams played a great competitive game for homecoming.
The Blazers came in on a hot streak as winners of three of its last four games, while the Blue Raiders were searching for consistency. Things weren’t looking good through three quarters as UAB held a 22-21 lead heading into the fourth frame.
This is where the defense took over. T.T. Barber and Kevin Byard each grabbed interceptions to lead the defense to a scoreless quarter.
This gave the offense a chance to put some points on the board. Running back Reggie Whatley ran the ball in from 67 yards out to give Middle Tennessee a 27-22 lead.
Quarterback Austin Grammer iced the game on his 30-yard pass to Marcus Henry, which led to the final score of 34-22 in favor of the Blue Raiders.
2009: Western Kentucky
This was one of the rare match-ups between these two that wasn’t a close game. The Blue Raiders scored early and often in a 62-24 drubbing of the Hilltoppers.
Quarterback Dwight Dasher enjoyed a career day, throwing for 355 yards and three touchdowns in the victory. One of his favorite targets Chris McClover also enjoyed his best game, reeling in six catches for 149 yards and two touchdowns.
After an early field goal gave the Toppers a 3-0 lead, MT reeled off 31 straight points to take a commanding 31-3 lead. While the Hilltopper offense finally managed to put some points on the board, the defense just couldn’t hold Dasher, as he would lead MT to a decisive 62-24 win in the “100 Miles of Hate” game.
Though not one of the closer games between the two teams, this is still a game that stands out in a year where the Blue Raiders won ten games and the New Orleans Bowl.
2017: Florida International
As far as this year’s game, Blue Raider fans were not disappointed. Led by backup quarterback John Urzua, Middle Tennessee played great from start to finish in a 37-17 blowout of the FIU Panthers.
Urzua played his most efficient game of his career, finishing with no interceptions and only six incomplete passes. On the ground, linebacker Tavares Thomas contributed three rushing touchdowns out of the “wildcat” formation to put FIU away early in the fourth quarter.
While this one was much like 2009’s game where it wasn’t dramatic or close, this game was different because the Blue Raiders were desperate for a win this year. A loss meant staying in the east division cellar for another week, while a win meant closing the gap to first place.
There’s still a long road ahead for MTSU, and it won’t be easy, but a Conference USA Championship is certainly within reach after yesterday’s performance.
The Blue Raiders will hit the road for their next contest to take on the UAB Blazers in Birmingham, Alabama, on Saturday. Kick-off is set for 5:30 p.m.