WILD FINISH TO BLUE RAIDERS – HILLTOPPERS BATTLE
BY JOE SHIVAK
PHOTOS BY MIKE CURRAN
Murfreesboro, TN ( 9/13)………………………..It took three overtime tries but the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders defeated the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers 50-47 in a 4 hour marathon game at Floyd Stadium on Saturday night.
An Austin Grammer to Ed’Marque Batties 25 yard TD pass in the third overtime period sealed the deal for Middle against a Conference USA opponent. The score put an end to a see-saw battle of field goal kickers forcing a third and final over time period.The Hilltoppers had just taken a 3 point lead on a Garrett Schwettman 27 yard field goal which stated the third overtime period. On Middle’s first possession of the third OT period, Grammer found Batties open down the left side of the field right in front of Western’s visitor’s section. It was Baties’ only second reception of the game and Middle’s only passing score. The junior starting wide receiver caught the ball at the five yard line and broke two tackles to get into the endzone. He ended with a total of 38 yards with two receptions, but the 25 yard catch led the entire team for the longest catch.
The game came down to the running efforts of the Blue Raider squad versus the passing efforts of the Hilltoppers. Both teams combined for 1259 yards of total offense, 718 yards for Western compared to 541 yards for Middle. Western had 593 yards of passing offense (a new record) while Middle had 218 yards in the air. Middle grounded out 323 yards while Western ran the ball for 125 yards.
Grammer led the Blue Raider’s rushers for 146 yard on 19 carries. He scored the first touchdown of the game on a 59 yard run at the 7:20 mark of the first quarter. That run was his longest of any run by either team and gave Middle a 7-0 lead.
Leon Allen was the workhorse for Western, carrying the ball 30 times for 130 yards. Western used only three other runners on six attempts but only Anthony Wales would have positive yards. He ended the game with 13 yards.
The Hilltoppers got on the scoreboard with a 20 yard field goal by Garrett Schwettman which ended a 84 yard drive at the 2:23 mark of the opening quarter. Middle answered with a 7 yard run by Jordan Parker. The quarter ended with Middle leading 14-3.
Western scored next when Brandon Doughty found Nicholas Norris on a 47 yard completion. The Hilltoppers cut the Middle lead to 14-10.
The Hilltoppers would take their first lead of the game when Doughty connected to Jared Dangerfield for 14 yards after marching down the field on a 76 yard drive. Western Kentucky would score again on an Allen 2 yard plunge after another long drive. The Hilltoppers now enjoyed a 24-14 lead.
Middle put together a long 64 yard drive but had to settle for a 37 yard Cody Clark field goal. The Blue Raiders would tie the score with only :13 seconds left before the half time break when Grammer ran 11 yards. Both teams went into the locker room having scored 24 points.
Middle opened the third quarter by receiving the ball, having won the opening game coin toss and electing to defer to the second half. After gaining just one first done they however had to punt the ball away as a result of a holding penalty and an additional false start flag on fourth down pushing them further back.
Each team would trade punts again but the biggest Blue Raider defensive showing came on fourth and goal when they stopped Western’s Allen from scoring from one yard out. The Hilltoppers tried rushing their huge fullback up the middle on two straight plays but the stubborn Middle defense stopped him for no gain each time including the fourth down attempt. Originally Allen was thought to have scored from the five yard line, however an official review of the play from upstairs showed he was stopped just short of the goal line. Middle’s Trey Walford, the strong side linebacker, was credited in stopping Allen both times.
Middle took over on downs at the one yard line and immediately turned to Batties, their leading receiver coming into the game, on a 30 yard pass which was dropped. A partial home crowd felt the Fresno, TX native was interfered with, but there was no call by the officials. Middle would have to punt the ball away on fourth down.
The third quarter would end with Western having possession of the ball. They moved the ball within field goal range however Schwettman missed on a 37 yard attempt when the ball fell short and to the left of the goalposts.
Middle ground game kicked in as they showed Western a dose of Shane Tucker, Reggie Whatley and Jeremiah Bryson. Tucker would score on the two yard run and Middle would lead 31-24.
On Western’s next possession they put together a 65 yard drive with Doughty connecting with Mitchell Henry on a 19 yard strike and the score was tied again 31-31. Middle used the clock well as they held the ball for 6:56 seconds in a 17 play, 68 yard scoring drive which ended with a 29 yard Clark field goal giving Middle a 3 point advantage.
With only 2:29 left in the game, Western relied on their passing game and moved the ball down to Middle’s six yard line but on 4th down, they had to settle for a 24 yard field goal to tie the game. Middle was given the ball with only :20 left on the clock and were able to only run off two plays, sending the contest into overtime.
Each team took turns scoring a touchdown in the first OT period. Western had the ball first and Doughty connected with Henry on a 25 yard pass. Middle tied the game again, when Grammer ran in from the one yard line, scoring his third rushing TD.
The second overtime period became a battle of kickers, as Clark first connected on 42 yarder. Then Schwettman was forced to make a 36 yard attempt tieing the game at 44-44.
The game would go to the third OT and Western again had to rely on Schwettman. This time he made good from 27 yards. On Middle’s very first play after Western scored, Grammer connected with Batties for the winning score. The MTSU bench then charged the field in celebration.
Regarding the win, head coach Rick Stockstill said, “I thought our team played a heck of a ballgame.” “They are a heck of a football team. We came in here and battled.”
Middle is now 2-1, (1-0 conference) and travel west next to take on Memphis.
For more pics from the game click here