Middle Tennessee answered one of its biggest gutchecks to date when it scored the winning touchdown in the final two minutes to become bowl eligible with a 42-35 win against FIU.
The Blue Raiders (6-2) used their first defensive score of the season to secure victory when linebacker DJ Sanders hauled in an interception and rumbled 48 yards for the go-ahead touchdown with 1:22 remaining for a 42-35 lead. It was Sanders’ third career interception and first touchdown.
Middle Tennessee sealed the victory when Steven Rhodes recovered a fumble that was forced by Malik Manciel on FIU’s final drive.
Sanders’ touchdown came after the Blue Raiders were forced to punt from the FIU 39 and with the Golden Panthers were driving toward midfield for the winning score.
Blue Raider quarterback Brent Stockstill was solid again with four touchdown passes. He completed 19-of-32 passes for 296 yards and no interceptions. He connected with Richie James and Ty Lee for two scores each. Stockstill also became the program’s career leader in touchdown passes.
Tailback I’Tavius Mathers continued to run roughshod over opponents behind the Blue Raiders’ solid offensive line. Mathers had 148 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries for a whopping 8.7 yards per touch. Mathers surpassed 1,000 yards rushing for the season to become the first tailback to accomplish the feat since Dwone Hicks in 2002.
James finished with 127 yards and two scores, including a 51-yarder, on just six catches. Lee tallied 100 yards on six catches, including his two scores. In fact, Lee scored the first two touchdowns of the game.
Darryl Randolph led the Blue Raiders with 10 tackles, followed by Chris Melton with nine. Melton also had a forced fumble. Mike Minter and Jovante Moffatt had eight tackles each. Darius Harris and Rhodes each recovered a fumble.
Middle Tennessee started fast and jumped out to a 21-0 lead six minutes into the game.
Stockstill connected with receiver Ty Lee for a 26-yard touchdown to cap a 75-yard drive. Canon Rooker’s extra point provided the Blue Raiders with a 7-0 lead with 13:41 remaining in the first quarter.
On the next drive, Stockstill and Lee hooked up gain, on a 19-yard touchdown grab to push the lead to 14-0 at the 11:04 mark of the first quarter. Stockstill became Middle Tennessee’s all-time leader in passing touchdowns with 54 on the play.
Mathers went over the 1,000 mark on a 9-yard scoring run with 9:09 remaining in the quarter and it looked like the Blue Raiders were off and running with a 21-0 lead. Their first three scoring drives came on a combined 12 plays.
FIU wouldn’t lay down and scored 14 unanswered to pull to within 21-14 after the first quarter, but the defenses started to settle in and the score remained the same until late in the half. After a Darius Harris fumble recovery, Stockstill threw his third touchdown of the first half when he hit James for a 15-yard scoring strike with 3:53 remaining until halftime.
The Golden Panthers came back with a touchdown just before intermission as Middle Tennessee led 28-21 at the half.
After a scoreless third quarter, FIU tied the game, 28-28, with 12:45 remaining, but the Blue Raiders responded quickly with a three-play scoring drive.
Stockstill connected for his fourth touchdown pass of the game and the second to James when the dynamic duo connected for a 52-yard scoring pass. The three-play, 75-yard drive staked Middle Tennessee to a 35-28 lead with 11:58 remaining.