HATTIESBURG, Miss. – Middle Tennessee used a pair of pick-sixes and totaled 418 yards to claim a 42-21 victory over Southern Miss at Roberts Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
The Blue Raiders (7-4, 5-2 Conference USA) won their fourth straight victory thanks to strong defensive play and 21-point second quarter. T.T. Barber andKevin Byard each had an interception return for a touchdown, while freshmen tailback Shane Tucker led the Raiders with a career-best 103 yards.
The game was tied 7-7 after one period of play, but the bowl bound Raiders used a Byard pick-six return and two rushing touchdowns to take a 21-7 lead into the locker room. Southern Miss (0-11, 0-7 C-USA) trimmed the deficit to 28-14 in the third before the Raiders responded with two more touchdowns to close out the contest.
Saturday’s victory gave Coach Rick Stockstill his 50th career win, which is third best in Middle Tennessee history. Senior quarterback Logan Kilgore completed 11-of-25 for 172 yards and a touchdown in the game. Kilgore became the school’s all-time leader with 51 career touchdown passes, dethroning Blue Raider legend Wes Counts.
Tucker, a true freshman tailback, notched a career-high 103 yards on 19 carries for two touchdowns. Jeremiah Bryson also reached a career night with 80 yards.
Defensively, the Blue Raiders put together seven sacks and collected a pair of interception returns for touchdowns. Byard, who is only a sophomore, set a school record in career interception return yards (326) with his 51-yard INT touchdown in the second quarter. He led the team with five solo stops and eight tackles. Barber finished the day with an interception return for touchdown and four tackles.
MT totaled 418 yards on 70 plays, while limiting USM to 379 total yards. The Raiders got 246 of those yards on the ground, holding the Eagles to 82 rushing. MT put together 10 tackles-for-loss with a season-high seven sacks.
Southern Miss had one of its best game-opening drives, moving 64 yards down the field to the Blue Raider 10-yardline. A Shubert Bastien sack on third and goal forced the Golden Eagles to attempt a field goal. The attempt failed after the ball shanked off the post.
Barber helped the Raiders score their fourth defensive touchdown and third pick six of the year with a 24-yard interception returned for a touchdown to put MT up 7-0. For only the second time this season, the Eagles scored a touchdown in the first quarter. Nick Mullens found Dominque Sullivan for an 11-yard TD reception, tying the game 7-7.
The defense once again scored another pick-six thanks to a 51-yard interception return by Byard. The sophomore broke a school career record for interception return yards, reaching 326 in his career. Later in the second quarter, the Raider offense got rolling with a 71-yard drive on 11 plays. It was capped by a Tucker 3-yard touchdown to give Middle Tennessee a 14 point advantage. The offense wasn’t done as the Raiders extended the lead to 28-7 thanks to a 16-yard touchdown pass from Kilgore to Tavarres Jefferson. The TD pass by Kilgore made him the career leader in touchdown passes with 51.
At the half, MT compiled 212 yards on 34 plays. USM was held to 143 yards on 39 snaps. Middle Tennessee’s defense forced seven sacks. Kilgore finished the opening half with seven completions out of 14 attempts for 109 yards and a touchdown. Tucker led the rushing attack with 51 yards on 10 plays and a touchdown.
Second half scoring slowed due to sloppy conditions at the Rock. Southern Miss battled back with a with a 14-yard touchdown from Mullens to Kendrick Hardy to make it a 28-14 contest. Mullens finished the day 27-of-47 for 289 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions.
Middle Tennessee’s offense responded in the fourth quarter by moving 79 yards on eight plays. Tucker earned his second touchdown of the day with a four yard rush as MT took a 35-14 lead. Corey Carmichael‘s 32-yard run gave Middle Tennessee a 28-point lead with over six minutes remaining. USM added a touchdown late in the fourth to make it a 42-21 game.
The Blue Raiders close out the regular season against UTEP next Saturday, Nov. 30. The Senior Day contest is set for 2:45 p.m. inside Floyd Stadium and will air locally on MyTV 30.
50: Today’s win over Southern Miss marked the 50th career head coaching victory for Rick Stockstill. In his eighth year at MT, the 50 wins ranks third on the all-time list.
No. 4 AND 5: Middle Tennessee registered its fourth and fifth defensive touchdown of the year when T.T. Barber and Kevin Byard picked off USM passes for touchdowns. The five scores in a season are the most under Rick Stockstill. The Blue Raiders have now had four interceptions returned for a touchdown and a fumble return. MT has now had 19 defensive touchdowns under Stockstill.
BYARD GETS RECORD: Sophomore Kevin Byard‘s 51-yard interception return for a touchdown was the fourth of his career and the second of the season. Both are current school records. Byard also now has 326 interception return yards which breaks the previous school record of 286 yards held by James Griffin (1979-82). The all-time NCAA mark is 501 yards set by Florida State’s Terrell Buckley.
SCHOOL RECORD: With two interception returns for touchdowns, the Blue Raiders established a new single-season record. MT now has four touchdowns on interception returns to break the previous mark of three set in 1970 and again in 1994.
GASQUE PASSES MCCORD: Junior Leighton Gasque collected his 15th and 16th career sacks in the second quarter against USM. That moves him past Anthony McCord for third on MT’s all-time list. He needs five more to overtake Jamari Lattimore (20.5) for second.
BACK-TO-BACK WITH 7 … AT LEAST: With today’s win over USM, Middle Tennessee has seven victories on the season. It marks the first time since 1994 and 1995 the Blue Raiders have won at least seven games in back-to-back seasons. The last time MT won at least eight games in consecutive seasons was 1991 and 1992.
100 FOR TUCKER: Freshman Shane Tucker rushed for a career-high 103 yards against USM to notch his first 100-yard game of his career. Tucker also had a personal-best 19 carries to go with two touchdowns. Tucker is the fourth different MT player to top 100 yards in a game this season (Parker, Whatley, Grammer).
QUICK HITTERS: MT won its sixth straight November game … Logan Kilgore‘s 16-yard TD pass to Tavarres Jefferson late in first half was the 51st of his career and now he owns the MT all-time mark by himself … WR Kyle Griswould made his team-leading 26th straight start today … Kyle Griswould has now caught at least one pass in 33 straight games which ranks as the second longest streak in school history … DT Jimmy Staten, P Josh Davis, and OL Josh Walker all played in their 47th career games which is tops on the team … Shaquille Huff registered the first and second sacks of his career in win over USM … Corey Carmichael‘s 32-yard touchdown run was a career long.