Raiders Blow Big Lead , But Hold On

A true freshman sent Middle Tennessee back to its winning ways Saturday at Charlotte.

With the game tied at 31, wide receiver Ty Lee lined up in the backfield and broke a 61-yard touchdown rush with 1:12 remaining in the contest. The Blue Raider defense held tough on the ensuing 49er drive, securing the 38-31 win.

Lee finished with five catches for 71 yards and scored two touchdowns to go with two rushes for 68 yards.

It was a tale of two halves, as the Blue Raiders (7-4, 4-3) dominated the first half and went into the break up 24-6, but Charlotte (4-7, 3-4) outscored MT 25-14 in the second half.

The big plays started right away for Middle’s offense. On the first play of the game, redshirt freshman quarterback John Urzua hit running back I’Tavius Mathers for 24 yards. That would lead to a touchdown pass from Urzua to Lee for 4 yards to give the Blue Raiders a 7-0 lead just three minutes into the game.

Urzua, who went into the game with three touchdowns and six interceptions on the year, had his best game as a Blue Raider. He completed 26-of-43 passes for 250 yards and four touchdowns. He was picked off twice.

The Raiders added 17 more points before the half on two more touchdown throws from Urzua to redshirt sophomore Richie James and redshirt junior Patrick Smith. Redshirt junior Canon Rooker nailed a 41-yard field goal at the end of the second quarter.

James continued his torrid pace with eight catches for 89 yards and one touchdown, and he also rushed six times for a career-high 61 yards. He is now just 4 yards shy of breaking the single-season receiving yards school record he set last year with 1,346 yards.

In the second half, the Middle Tennessee offense stalled while Charlotte’s got rolling, though not with its rushing attack that went into the game averaging a Conference USA best 194.2 yards per game.

The Blue Raider defense limited the 49ers to just 164 total rushing yards and came up with big plays when they needed it.

With just over five minutes remaining in the game and a 31-23 Raider lead, the 49ers marched all the way inside the MT 5-yard line but were halted by the Middle defense on fourth down. It was the third time Charlotte failed to score inside the red zone on eight attempts.

Middle Tennessee’s defense was also stingy on third and fourth down all day. The 49ers only converted on four of 20 third down attempts and two of six tries on fourth down.

Other standouts offensively for Middle included Mathers, who rushed 16 times for 101 yards and also had six catches for 34 yards. Patrick Smith caught two balls for 20 yards and two TDs.

Defensively, the Blue Raiders were led by sophomore linebacker Chris Melton, who racked up 10 tackles and .5 tackles for loss. Redshirt sophomore free safety Darryl Randolph added nine tackles, .5 tackles for loss and a pass breakup. Collectively, the Raiders tallied 11 pass breakups throughout the day.

Senior Steven Rhodes also added four tackles and two sacks, the last of which came on Charlotte’s final drive on third down that caused a final fourth-and-20 play.

The Raiders now turn their attention to the regular season finale at home next week against FAU.

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