MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – It wasn’t pretty at times, but a win is a win.
That’s what Middle Tennessee Head Coach Rick Stockstill told his team after the Blue Raiders (1-1) sent their fans home happy with a 61-37 win over UT Martin (0-2) Saturday at Floyd Stadium.
“Winning is hard,” he said. “This was a grind … it was a tough, competitive game.
“We did a lot of good things … but at the same time, we did a lot of things that we have to get better at in all three phases of the game. It was a good win, and I’m fired up about it.”
Not everything went MT’s way against its old Ohio Valley Conference rival. The Blue Raiders surrendered 460 total yards (355 passing), gave up an onside kick, allowed four sacks, missed two extra points, suffered six costly penalties and gave up 12 third-down conversions.
Despite the miscues, Middle Tennessee was able to grow as much as a 23-point lead midway through the third quarter thanks to its offense and hung on.
“When you win and don’t play your best, that’s always a positive,” Coach Stockstill said. “We have to correct our mistakes, but it was good to see some explosive plays from our offense.”
The Blue Raiders took a 26-17 lead into halftime and expanded on it quickly after the break thanks to redshirt senior quarterback Brent Stockstill and a good special teams play.
After Brent Stockstill marched the blue and white down the field for a touchdown, redshirt freshman linebacker Wayne Parks recovered a poor punt attempt on the ensuing Skyhawk drive and returned it 35 yards for another score, giving MT a 40-17 lead that was its largest of the game to that point.
“I thought we reset ourselves and simplified everything,” Brent Stockstill said. “We really had a simple, effective plan going into this week, and we really executed it well.”
The Skyhawks tried a dramatic comeback after the punt return TD, cutting the lead all the way down to 47-37 with 9 ½ minutes left in the contest, but MT wouldn’t be denied its first win of 2018.
Brent Stockstill answered a 59-yard UTM scoring drive with an eight-play, 75-yard drive highlighted by a 39-yard reception by sophomore Brad Anderson. The drive ended with a 26-yard passing score to redshirt senior Patrick Smith, his third receiving TD of the night.
UT Martin attempted another answer, getting the ball down into the red zone, but freshman Gregory Grate Jr. iced the game with a 97-yard pick six to put Middle Tennessee up by the 61-37 final.
“That was big for a young guy,” sophomore linebacker DQ Thomas said. “I’m pretty sure he’s still celebrating.”
Brent Stockstill finished 25 of 34 for 407 yards and five TDs through the air, his third career 400-yard passing game. Anderson was his favorite target, catching six balls for 141 yards, and Smith had five grabs for 87 yards and three touchdowns, tied for a school single-game record. Junior CJ Windham added three catches for 86 yards and two TDs.
All three receivers set career highs in yards.
Alongside Stockstill in the backfield, redshirt freshman Chaton Mobley got the first start of his Blue Raider career and responded well. The Fulton, Tennessee native finished with 12 carries for 55 yards and the first two TDs of his college career.
“I knew I would have to be the next guy up,” Mobley said. “It felt amazing – I hadn’t played football in like two years, so it felt pretty good.”
Defensively, Middle Tennessee racked up five sacks as a team, led by two from Thomas, who also had six tackles and three tackles for loss.
Senior Wesley Bush was the high man in the tackle department with 10, and Grate finished with seven tackles, a sack and an interception.
Things don’t get easy for the Blue Raiders moving forward, as they’ll travel to No. 3 Georgia in Week 3.
“We’re playing some real McCoys this week,” Coach Stockstill said. “We have to correct our mistakes and play better than what we did today.”
Josh Vardaman is the staff writer for goblueraiders.com. Follow him on Twitter @J_Vardaman and also follow @MTAthletics for more on the Blue Raiders.
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