MURFREESBORO – Middle Tennessee’s defense was opportunistic for three-plus quarters Saturday night but the unit was unable to get key stops down the stretch against Vanderbilt.
The Commodores (2-3) scored two touchdowns in the final 6:14 of the game to come-from-behind and stun Middle Tennessee, 17-13, in front of 25,411 at Floyd Stadium Saturday.
Ralph Webb’s 39-yard touchdown run with 1:12 remaining proved to be the difference as it put the Commodores on top 17-13. Middle Tennessee had one drive remaining but failed to pick up a first down in its attempt for a game-winning drive.
Vanderbilt had pulled to within 13-10 on quarterback Johnny McCrary’s 29-yard scoring run with 6:14 remaining.
Rushing the football was a storyline. Of Vanderbilt’s 414 yards total offense, 237 came on the ground. Middle Tennessee, on the other hand, rushed for just 34 yards against the Commodore defense with Jeremiah Bryson leading the way with 17 yards on seven carries.
Middle Tennessee was limited to 320 yards total yards with 286 of those coming through the air. Quarterback Brent Stockstill completed 32-of-51 passes for 286 yards and a touchdown. Receive Ed Batties had 10 catches for 82 yards and a touchdown. Richie James had eight catches for 95 yards before suffering an injury.
Stockstill set the single-game record for passing attempts with 51, besting Logan Kilgore’s mark of 49 against WKU in 2011. Stockstill also set a career high for completions with 32, which also is the second most in a single game.
Middle Tennessee appeared to have received a huge break in a tight game when a penalty kept a drive alive late in the third quarter. Although the penalties were few between the teams, one flag weighed heavily against Vanderbilt. Trailing 6-3 late in the third quarter, Vanderbilt had forced a Middle Tennessee punt and appeared to take over at the Commodore 20. A penalty against the Commodores for a personal foul kept the drive alive and gave Middle Tennessee possession at the Vanderbilt 32.
Middle Tennessee made the mistake hurt when, six plays later, Stockstill connected with Batties, who made a sensational 20-yard catch between two defenders for the game’s first touchdown to put the Blue Raiders on top 13-3.
Vanderbilt finally scored its first touchdown when Johnny McCrary scored on a 29-yard run to pull the Commodores to within 13-10 with 6:14 remaining.
Senior Cody Clark gave Middle Tennessee an early 3-0 lead when he drilled a career-long 44-yard field goal with 12:57 remaining in the first quarter. Clark’s clutch kick capped an eight-play, 48-yard drive in 2:03.
Vanderbilt tried to counter and marched into Blue Raiders territory before the defense stiffened and forced a 40-yard field goal try. Tommy Openshaw’s 40-yard effort was wide left and the Blue Raiders maintained a 3-0 cushion with 8:50 remaining in the first quarter.
The Commodores tied the game, 3-3, when Openshaw connected on a 40-yard field goal with 45 seconds remaining in the opening frame. The lead was short-lived.
Middle Tennessee was driving and moved the ball inside the Vanderbilt 20 early in the second quarter but the drive stalled at the Commodore 11. Clark came on and nailed his second field goal in as many tries when he connected from 28 yards out to cap an 11-play, 64-yard drive with 12:42 remaining in the first half to give the Blue Raiders a 6-3 edge.
The Blue Raiders gambled and went for a score on 4th-and-goal from the 2 midway through the second quarter, but Vanderbilt stopped Stockstill at the 1 to take over on downs.
One of the biggest plays of a first half dominated by defense on both sides of the ball came late in the second quarter on the Commodores’ next drive. Vanderbilt was driving with less than one minute remaining and had the ball inside the Blue Raider 20 when Minter forced a fumble and Cavallis Luckett pounced on it to turn back the scoring threat.
Middle Tennessee carried a 6-3 cushion into the intermission.
The defense came up huge again at the start of the second half. Vanderbilt was on the move once again, but Shaquille Huff came up with a clutch tackle for loss and, two plays later, Byard came up with an interception at the Blue Raider 20 and returned it 25 yards near midfield. It was Byard’s 17th career interception, which tied James Griffin’s school record for career picks.
Middle Tennessee was looking to turn the miscue into points and had driven inside the Vanderbilt 40 when Shane Tucker fumbled to end the drive.
Middle Tennessee’s defense forced three turnovers but didn’t score any points off of them.
The Blue Raiders return to conference action when they travel to WKU Saturday. Kickoff is 11 a.m.
BYARD TIES GRIFFIN: Kevin Byard stopped Vanderbilt’s opening drive of the second half with an interception. It went down as Byard’s 17th of his career which ties James Griffin (1979-82) for the all-time school record. Byard had 25 yards on the return which now gives him 352 yards for his career which is also a school record.
STOCKSTILL SETS CAREER HIGH: Brent Stockstill set the Middle Tennessee single-game record for most passing attempts with 51 against Vanderbilt. The previous record was 49, set by Logan Kilgore vs. WKU Oct. 6, 2011. Stockstill also set his career high for completions with 32, which also is the second-most in a single game.
QUICK HITTERS: Tonight’s announced attendance of 25,411 ranks as the eighth highest in Floyd Stadium history … DB Alex Dale recorded the first interception of his career in the second quarter … TE Lucas Hamilton made his first career start tonight … Kevin Byard and James Roberson played in their team leading 41st career game today … LB T.T. Barber made his team-high 33rd straight start today … PK Cody Clark‘s 44-yard FG in the first quarter was the longest of his career … Walk-on WR Derek Barnes made his first collegiate catch tonight in the first quarter … T.T. Barber registered his third sack of the season and the seventh of his career.