After having their own homecoming spoiled by a heart-breaking loss to WKU, the Blue Raiders traveled to Missouri to play the part of the homecoming opponent themselves.
Middle got things started off right as the defense stifled the uptempo offense of the Tigers. Just when it seemed like Mizzou had returned the favor, Brent Stockstill found daylight and converted a 3rd-and-6 situation on a 63-yard run. The run set up a 15-yard touchdown pass to Dennis Andrews to put MT on the board first.
“I was a little surprised when I snuck out of there and saw some grass. I felt like I ran a 800 (meter) in track. I got gassed about 40 yards downfield,” Stockstill said of his big run.
However, Stockstill wasn’t the only to break off a big run, and his wasn’t even the biggest of the day. I’Tavius Mathers broke off a 71-yard run early in the second quarter, and Richie James caught a 56-yard touchdown pass on the Blue Raiders’ next possession. Just minutes later, the Blue Raiders capitalized off of a botched long snap on a Mizzou punt which set-up a Richie James touchdown run. The score put MT ahead before the half, and they never relinquished the lead. The Blue Raiders went on to beat their first Power 5 opponent since 2012 by a score of 51–45.
“It was great to get a win to get the taste of that (WKU) loss out of your mouth, and it didn’t matter if it was Missouri or Alabama A&M,” coach Rick Stockstill continued. “For our players to experience the joy of doing something nobody thought you could do, going on the road and beating an SEC team. For them to prove people wrong, and to have that experience, to have that elation in the locker room, that joy they’ll carry with them for a long time. They’ll remember it the rest of their lives.”
There were multiple excellent individual performances against the Tigers. Alex Dale lead all defenders with 18 tackles, Stockstill threw for 280 yards and four touchdowns and James had 129 receiving yards with two total touchdowns.
However, it was Mathers who stole the day. He rushed for 215 yards and a touchdown while adding another 48 yards and a touchdown in the receiving game. It should come as no surprise that this performance earned Mathers the C-USA Player of the Week award once again.
Coach Stockstill will hope to get the same type of production this week as the Blue Raiders take their talents to South Beach to play Florida International.
While the entire fan base realizes a win Saturday will make MT bowl eligible, it is the furthest thing from Coach Stock’s mind.
“I haven’t even talked about bowl eligibility. We’re just trying to win this week. We’ve sat at home with eight (wins), so I don’t think about all that stuff,” stated Stockstill.
FIU stumbled to an 0–4 record out of the gates, which led to the firing of head coach Ron Turner. Ron Cooper, who was on the same coaching staff as Stockstill at South Carolina, has since taken the reins and has lead the Panthers to a 3–1 record since. FIU now sits atop the C-USA East along with WKU.
It is hard to tell, however, what the Blue Raiders should expect.
The Panthers opened their season against a much stronger schedule than they’ve played over their last four games. Their three wins came against C-USA opponents who rate from mediocre to just plain bad. Their most recent game was a blowout loss to Louisiana Tech.
However one judges the strength of this opponent, they are not without some talented players of their own. Junior quarterback Alex McGough leads Florida International all-time in completions, passing yards and touchdown passes. He will be accompanied in the backfield by junior running back Alex Gardner. Gardner has 790 yards from scrimmage on the season, average 5.2 yards per touch.
The Panther defense is lead by linebackers Anthony Wint and Treyvon Williams. They are both locked in a three-way tie with WKU’s Keith Brown as C-USA’s leading tacklers.
Recent history is also on the Panthers’ side. Over the last three meetings between the two teams the home team is undefeated.
The Blue Raiders will see if they can shake that trend Saturday, Oct. 29, at 6 p.m. You can catch the action on ESPN 3 or listen in on 100.5 FM.