Bowl-Eligible Raiders Win 35-14

Senior Eugene Gross rushes for career-best 208 yards, 2 scores

November 4, 2006 · MT Media Relations

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. - Senior Eugene Gross rushed for a career-high 208 yards and Middle Tennessee scored on special teams, offense and defense in a 35-14 victory over Florida Atlantic Saturday at Floyd Stadium. With the win, the Blue Raiders become bowl eligible for the first time since 2001 and just the second time in the I-A era.

Gross carried 21 times for 208 yards and two touchdowns, including a career-best 76-yard burst in the third quarter. Middle Tennessee also returned another kickoff for a score and picked up a fumble and rumbled in for a touchdown to keep its Sun Belt record perfect at 5-0, 6-3 overall.

The visiting Owls (3-6, 2-1) took the opening possession of the game 59 yards to the Middle Tennessee 6, but the drive stalled after a sack and a 35-yard field goal by FAU's Warley Leroy was wide left.

Blue Raiders vs. Florida Atlantic
After a Bradley Robinson interception and 52-yard return, the Blue Raiders also missed a field goal wide left, this one from 40 yards by Colby Smith.

At the beginning of the second quarter, Middle Tennessee embarked on a 13-play, 85-yard drive that took almost seven minutes off the clock, capped by a two-yard plunge from Gross, his seventh rushing touchdown of the season.

The Owls made a quarterback change in the second quarter and on the first play, Rusty Smith fumbled the snap, with Blue Raider Sean Mosley recovering. Three plays later Desmond Gee ran a sweep around the right end, got to the corner and sneaked inside the pylon for a 10-yard scoring run and a 14-0 Blue Raider advantage.

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FAU got on the board just before the half when Smith drove the Owls down the field in the final two minutes. Smith hit Casey McGahee with a nine-yard strike with only 16 remaining in the second quarter, cutting the Middle Tennessee lead in half at the break.

The Blue Raiders got the score back on the first play of the second half when Damon Nickson returned the opening kickoff 94 yards, his second kickoff return for a TD this season.

The Owls looked to cut the lead to one score late in the third quarter, but the Middle Tennessee defense stiffened, stopping four plays inside the three-yard line to keep the Blue Raiders ahead, 21-7. On the next play Gross ripped off his 76-yard run, getting the Raiders out from under their own goalposts.

Middle Tennessee added to the lead early in the fourth period when Justin Rainey gathered a fumble after a bad snap and returned it 50 yards for a score, the third defensive score of the season.

FAU scored in the fourth period on a 14-play, 81-yard drive, with Charles Pierre running in the touchdown from four yards out.

The Owls moved down the field later in the period and reached the Middle Tennessee 27 before Lonnie Clemons picked off a Smith pass, sealing the victory for the Blue Raiders.

Gross then broke off a 56-yard score in the final minute after a Florida Atlantic timeout for the final points on the game, putting an exclamation point on the Blue Raiders third straight win this season at Floyd Stadium.

Middle Tennessee heads to Jonesboro, Ark., for a 2:05 p.m. contest against Arkansas State next Saturday.

BOWL ELIGIBLE: With today's win over Florida Atlantic, Middle Tennessee became the first Sun Belt team to be bowl eligible. It marks the first time since 2001 the Blue Raiders have won the necessary games to qualify for postseason play. The six wins match the second most in a single-season by MT during the I-A era.

NICKSON STRIKES ... AGAIN: Known this year as Middle Tennessee's big play man, Damon Nickson struck again at an opportune time against Florida Atlantic when he brought back the opening kickoff of the second half 94 yards for a touchdown. It was the fifth longest in Middle Tennessee history and the fourth longest in Sun Belt Conference history. Nickson, who also returned one 88 yards for a touchdown against Louisville earlier this season, joins Reuben Justice (1969) as the only players in school history to record two kickoff return touchdowns in a single-season.

SCORING THREE WAYS: Middle Tennessee reached the endzone in the win over Florida Atlantic on offense, defense and special teams. It marks the first time during the I-A a Blue Raider team has scored in all three phases of the game.

GROSS ON A ROLL: Senior Eugene Gross rushed for a personal-best 208 yards on 21 attempts in the win over FAU to record his seventh 100-yard rushing game of his career and tie Dwight Stone for the ninth most 100-yard games in Blue Raider history. He tallied 167 of those yards in the second half. Over his past three games, Gross has rushed for 402 yards on 65 attempts. Gross also passed Bobby Young (2,524) for seventh place on the all-time rushing list and stands with 2,576 career rushing yards.

ROBINSON GETS FIRST: After being shutout in the interception department for eight games, junior Bradley Robinson reeled in his first of the season and returned it 52 yards to end an FAU threat in the first quarter. Robinson, who missed last week's game with a hamstring injury, now has eight for his career, just two shy of jumping into the all-time career list.

WALDEN INCHES CLOSER: Junior Erik Walden registered his fifth sack of the season and the 14th of his career when he dropped FAU's Sean Clayton in the first half. Walden now stands just one sack behind all-time leader Anthony McCord.

SACKS ARE UP: With three sacks today against Florida Atlantic, Middle Tennessee moved its season total to 23. That figure ranks third on the single-season list and is just five shy of the all-time record of 28 set by the 2004 team.

SABB MOVES UP TFL LIST: With a tackle for loss on the last play of the first quarter, senior J.K. Sabb ran his season total to 12.5 and moved up to sixth on the all-time list. Sabb passed Kenny McDaniel and Jack Pittman, who each had 25.0 during their careers. Sabb's 12.5 tackles for loss ranks 10th on the single-season list and is just a half TFL away from equaling his total of 13 in 2005.

GROSS PASSES BAYLESS: Senior Eugene Gross recorded the 38th and 39th rushing touchdowns of his career during Saturday's contest against FAU to pass Kippy Bayless for third place on the all-time list. Gross has 40 career touchdowns overall and leads the Blue Raiders this season with nine TDs this season.

QUICK HITTERS: Middle Tennessee is now 5-0 in conference play for the first time since 1992 ... Today's game marked the first game at Floyd Stadium for the Blue Raiders in 51 days ... QB Clint Marks made his 30th straight start under center today against FAU ... Middle Tennessee's interception on its opening drive of the game marked the third straight contest the Blue Raiders have thrown a pick on its initial drive of the game ... DE Tavares Jones recorded his team-leading fifth sack on the first possession of the game ...DE Sean Mosley recorded his second fumble recovery of the season and the fourth of his career ... RB/WR Desmond Gee has now scored a touchdown in three straight games ... Middle Tennessee has now scored three touchdowns on defense this year after Justin Rainey returned a fumble recovery 50 yards for a score against FAU ... Lonnie Clemons' fourth-quarter interception was the first of his career and the 12th for the Blue Raiders this season.

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