MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – Middle Tennessee inched closer to bowl eligibility Saturday with a big win in its annual Salute to Veterans and Armed Forces game, co-sponsored by State Farm and Big O Tires of Murfreesboro.
In front of a crowd full of veterans and active military personnel, the Blue Raiders (4-5, 2-3) dominated in every phase of the game and took down visiting UTEP (0-9, 0-5) 30-3 to end a two-game losing skid.
“I’m really proud of our team and happy for those guys in there. They worked extremely hard to get this win,” Head Coach Rick Stockstill said. “Winning builds confidence … so they should feel good about themselves. We’ve got some things to clean up, obviously, but this team should feel good about itself.”
Middle Tennessee showed its bye the week before came at just the right time. The Blue Raiders not only looked refreshed physically and sharper mentally, but they also benefitted from getting their starting quarterback back on the field.
Redshirt junior Brent Stockstill was back under center after missing the previous seven games due to a sternum injury suffered in Week 2. After knocking some rust off, he looked like he’s rounding into the same old southpaw.
The Murfreesboro native completed just three of his first eight passes, but ended the first quarter 3-for-4 including a 25-yard touchdown strike to sophomore Ty Lee to make the score 10-0 early on.
Brent Stockstill finished 13-for-30 passing with 190 yards, three TDs and an interception. He also passed Logan Kilgore for second on MT’s all-time passing yards list with a 27-yard completion to Shane Tucker in the second quarter.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Brent Stockstill said, “and just to get back out there with the guys and start this November off with a win, I couldn’t ask for much more. It was a good team win.”
The Blue Raiders took a 10-0 lead into the first-quarter intermission, and from there all their defense had to do was limit the damage.
It did much more than that.
UTEP managed just 137 total yards offensively (48 passing) and punted on nine of its 12 possessions, eight of which were three-and-out drives. Middle Tennessee also came up with three sacks of Miners quarterback Ryan Metz.
The 137 UTEP yards were the fewest given up by MT this season.
“We hadn’t hit anybody in a couple of weeks, so it was good to get back to the game,” junior safety Jovante Moffatt said. “They had nothing to lose, so we had to be ready for anything. Stopping the run was the main key.”
Brent Stockstill made it 17-0 with 4:35 left in the second quarter when he hit freshman Jimmy Marshall for a 5-yard score, the wideouts’ first career TD.
Junior running back Tavares Thomas added a rushing score in the third quarter, then Brent Stockstill found Tavonn Salter for a 10-yard TD with 10:30 left in the game, also his first career score.
Lee led the way in the receiving department for MT with six catches for 80 yards and a TD, and senior Shane Tucker had 63 yards on just two catches. Thomas and freshman Brad Anderson had 68 rushing yards each.
Defensively, the Blue Raiders were led in tackles by Moffatt’s seven. Redshirt sophomore linebacker Khalil Brooks, freshman safety Reed Blankenship and freshman backer DQ Thomas had a sack each.
Middle Tennessee will be back in action Nov. 11 on the road at Charlotte (1-8). Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m. CT, and it can be viewed on ESPN3.
“These guys will feel a lot better about themselves tomorrow than they did last Sunday,” Coach Stockstill said. “We’ll get out there and coach them hard, and understand that one step is down and it’s time for the next step now.”
GOOD IN NOVEMBER: Under Rick Stockstill, the Blue Raiders have enjoyed success down the final stretch of the season in November. Over its last 35 games in the month of November, the Blue Raiders are 24-11 and have won 15 of their last 20. Overall under Stockstill MT carries a 26-15 mark in November.
STOCKSTILL RETURNS: After missing the previous six games, junior quarterback Brent Stockstill returned to the lineup against UTEP. Stockstill went on to lead the Blue Raiders to a key win by throwing three touchdown passes in his return.
ROOKER SETS ANOTHER MARK: For the third consecutive game, senior Canon Rooker hit a career long field goal. At UAB it was a 47 yarder, then against Marshall he hit a 50 yarder before connecting on a 51 yarder at home versus UTEP. The 51 yarder went down as the 7th longest in school history. Rooker, a Lou Groza semifinalist, is now the first kicker in school history to hit two field goals from 50 yards or longer in the same season.
BROOKS IN TOP 10: Sophomore Khalil Brooks‘ second quarter sack put him in the Top 10 at MT for single-season sacks. Brooks now has 6.5 on the season which ties him with Danny Carmichael for seventh place on the list. The all-time single-season mark is 11.5 by Jamari Lattimore (2010) and Erik Walden (2006).
QUICK HITTERS: PK Canon Rooker played in his team-high 48th game tonight … LB DJ Sanders made his team-leading 22nd straight start … DT Jordan Ferguson and DT Tyrone Nix made their first collegiate starts tonight … QB Brent Stockstill has now thrown at least one touchdown pass in 19 straight games played … WR Tavonn Salter recorded his first collegiate touchdown reception in the win over UTEP