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Blue Raiders power past Southern Miss to win New Orleans Bowl Championship, 42-32

Dasher named MVP after record-setting performance

December 20, 2009 · MT Athletic Communications

NEW ORLEANS, La. - Middle Tennessee and its throng of fans enjoyed an early Blue Christmas in the Big Easy when it powered past Southern Miss, 42-32, in the R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl at the Louisiana Superdome Sunday night.

The Blue Raiders capped one of the best seasons in school history with their first bowl win during the FBS era as the Sun Belt's representative in the New Orleans Bowl, where Conference USA representative Southern Miss had never lost in three previous tries before getting throttled by a spirited Middle Tennessee team. It was the second bowl appearance for Middle Tennessee as a FBS member and its first in the New Orleans Bowl.

Middle Tennessee (10-3) ended the season with a seven-game win streak. It's the most wins for the Blue Raiders since the 1992 squad won 10 and the win streak is the longest since the 1985 team won 11 straight. Astonishing junior quarterback Dwight Dasher was named the New Orleans Bowl Most Valuable Player after accounting for 363 yards total offense - 201 rushing and 162 passing - rushing for two touchdowns and passing for two more.

For good measure Dasher also became one of just eight quarterbacks in FBS history to rush for 1,000 yards and pass for 2,000 in the same season. His 201 yards rushing established a New Orleans Bowl record and he became the only quarterback in Blue Raider history to surpass 1,000 yards rushing in a season.

While the spotlight would shine on Dasher it was still that blue-collar, blue-clad defense that stiffened after a slow start and dominated the game following the opening quarter when it surrendered two touchdowns on Southern Miss' first two drives. It allowed just 18 points the remainder of the game, while the Blue Raider offense piled up 42 points.

The defense also had two interceptions compliments of Alex Suber and Danny Carmichael. Making the turnovers even more impressive was the fact Southern Miss quarterback Martevious Young had thrown just two interceptions all season and had 165 consecutive completions without a pick before Suber turned him over in the second quarter. Suber's interception would set up a touchdown that enabled Middle Tennessee to rally and tie the game, 14-14.

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Carmichael's interception sealed the game and capped a tremendous Blue Raider career on a high note.

The win demonstrated the continued growth of Middle Tennessee's program under fourth-year head coach Rick Stockstill, who has led the Blue Raiders to both of their bowl appearances of the FBS era. He had to like the way his team performed before a national-television audience on one of its biggest stages.

After spotting Southern Miss a two-touchdown, first-quarter lead, Middle Tennessee used the arm and legs of Dasher to finally get on the scoreboard early in the second quarter. Dasher accounted for all 70 yards and capped the drive with an 11-yard pass to Garrett Andrews. Dasher, who left the field for one play at the end of the first quarter following a 14-yard run, ran for 47 yards and threw for 23 more on the 12-play drive.

His 23-yard run to the Golden Eagle 12 not only set up the touchdown but also earned Dasher a place in history. Dasher surpassed the 1,000-yard rushing mark on the run to become one of only eight quarterbacks in history to throw for 2,000 yards and rush for 1,000 in the same season. The touchdown pass was Dasher's 22nd of the season, establishing a new Blue Raider single-season standard and besting Mickey Corwin's mark of 21 set in 1984.

Suddenly, the Blue Raiders were energized.

The defense forced its second consecutive stop and the Blue Raiders' offense was on the move before the drive stalled at the 14 where Alan Gendreau's 31-yard field goal attempt was blocked.

Middle Tennessee's path to a comeback; however, would not be blocked.

The Blue-clad dynamic defense stepped up huge once again when corner Alex Suber jumped a quick route in the flat and secured his second interception of the season to return the ball to the high-octane Blue Raider offense at the Southern Miss 12. It was Middle Tennessee's 18th interception of the season and the first thrown by Southern Miss quarterback Martevious Young in 165 consecutive pass attempts. It was also just the second interception of the season for the Golden Eagle offense.

Opportunity was not wasted. Middle Tennessee faced third down at the 9 when Dasher eluded a pass rush and found Shane Blissard in the end zone to even the score at 14-14 following Gendreau's extra point with 4:41 remaining in the half.

Southern Miss answered with a 20-yard field goal to send the Golden Eagles into the half with a 17-14 advantage. Fans were treated to an exciting back-and-forth affair as both teams settled into the game and were able to get into a rhythm.

Defense turned the tide in Middle Tennessee's favor in the second quarter. After piling up 123 yards in the first half, Southern Miss' offense was throttled in the second quarter, when the Blue Raider defense allowed just 51 yards and forced a turnover.

The second half began with misfortune for the Blue Raiders. The offense received the opening kickoff and was marching when Dasher fumbled inside the 25; however, Middle Tennessee's staunch defense hastily forced a three-and-out and returned possession to Dasher and Co.

And they delivered, giving Middle Tennessee its first lead, 21-17, when Dasher dashed 35 yards untouched to cap a six-play, 78-yard drive with 10:12 remaining. Two captivating passing plays set up the touchdown jaunt - a 27-yard completion to Desmond Gee and a chain-moving, dynamic 23-yard reception from Andrews on third-and-15. One play later Dasher sprinted into the end zone to provide the Blue Raiders their first advantage.

Southern Miss answered with a 38-yard field goal to creep to within 21-20 to set up an exciting finish for the New Orleans Bowl Championship.

Middle Tennessee extended its lead in dramatic fashion to end the third quarter. Dasher had the Blue Raiders on the move once again and brought fans to their feet when he broke free for a 31-yard run on third-and-9 at the Blue Raider 25. Dasher was injured as he tried to make a cut at the end of the run and had to leave the game with an apparent ankle injury.

Enter Brent Burnette. The redshirt freshman completed a 22-yard pass to Wes Caldwell on second-and-16 from the 50 and capped the drive when he connected with Chris McClover who turned the screen pass into a 23-yard touchdown. Gendreau added the point after to give the Blue Raiders a 28-20 lead on the final play of the third quarter. Dasher would return for Middle Tennessee's next offensive series.

After a series of exchanges, Southern Miss once again cut into Middle Tennessee's lead when DeAndre Brown hauled in his second touchdown catch, a 7-yard reception. The Golden Eagles' two-point conversion attempt failed and Middle Tennessee maintained a 28-26 lead with 6:52 remaining.

Middle Tennessee needed an answer.

Dasher provided one.

The dual-threat quarterback made the play of the game on a gutsy fourth-and-1 call from the Golden Eagle 48. Everyone anticipating a run, Dasher completed an 18-yard pass to Desmond Gee, pushing the ball inside the 30. Two plays later the elusive Dasher exploded through the line for a 29-yard gain to the 1 before Benjamin Cunningham put the finishing touches on the drive with a 1-yard plunge to give Middle Tennessee a 35-26 lead with 3:14 remaining.

Carmichael provided the exclamation point on the ensuing Golden Eagle drive when he intercepted Young at the 18 and returned the ball to the 5. Dasher added the statement when he powered in from the 1 and Middle Tennessee owned a commanding 42-26 lead.

Southern Miss would add a late touchdown but it could do little to detour Middle Tennessee's celebration in the Big Easy.

NEW ORLEANS BOWL POSTGAME NOTES:
DASHER JOINS ELITE GROUP: Quarterback Dwight Dasher joined an elite group tonight when he topped the 1,000-yard rushing mark enabling him to have over 2,000 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing in the same season. Dasher becomes just the seventh player to accomplish this feat in the history of the NCAA and it is the ninth time overall.

OVER 1,000: With 201 yards rushing tonight, QB Dwight Dasher went over 1,000 yards rushing for the first time in his career and the first time ever by a quarterback at Middle Tennessee. Dasher is also the first 1,000-yard rusher at Middle Tennessee since Dwone Hicks in 2002 and the 15th player overall in school history.

MVP HONORS: Quarterback Dwight Dasher was named the Most Valuable Player of the 2009 New Orleans Bowl after his impressive performance.

SUBER GETS HUGE PICK: Senior Alex Suber jumped a Southern Miss route deep in USM territory to come up with his fifth career interception in the second quarter. The interception set up a Blue Raider touchdown to tie the score at 14-14. It was USM quarterback Martavious Young's second interception of the season and his first in 165 pass attempts.

CARMICHAEL INT SEALS WIN: Senior Danny Carmichael intercepted Martavious Young's pass on the USM 17-yard line and returned it for 12 yards with just 1:13 remaining in the game. This play set-up a three-play scoring drive for the Blue Raiders which was capped with a one-yard run by QB Dwight Dasher setting the score at 42-26. It was Carmichael's first interception of the season and USM's Young's second interception of the game and just his third of the season.

NATIONAL EXPOSURE: Tonight's game was the third nationally televised game for the Blue Raiders this season and the 12th in school history. The three national broadcasts this year match the most ever in a single-season at MT (2006). Under Rick Stockstill, the Blue Raiders have been on national television 10 times to lead all Sun Belt schools.

DASHER TOPS 100: Quarterback Dwight Dasher topped the 100-yard rushing mark in the New Orleans Bowl for the third time this season and the fourth time in his career. The four 100-yard games equal the school record for a quarterback with Marvin Collier (1985-88). Dasher finished tonight's game with 201 rushing yards which is a new New Orleans Bowl record. Dasher's 201 yards are also a national bowl record as no quarterback has ever rushed for more than 200 yards in a bowl game. In the 2006 Rose Bowl, Texas' Vince Young rushed for 200 yards.

BURNETTE STEPS UP: When Dwight Dasher went out of the game with an ankle injury late in the third quarter, redshirt freshman Brent Burnette stepped up in a big way. Burnette completed two passes for 55 yards, including a 23-yard touchdown pass to Chris McClover. It was just the second touchdown pass of the season for Burnette. 10 WINS: With the win over Southern Miss in the New Orleans Bowl, Middle Tennessee finished the 2009 season with a 10-3 record. The 10 wins are the most by the Blue Raiders in the FBS era and the most ever by a Sun Belt team. The last time Middle Tennessee won 10 games in a season was 1992.

SEVEN STRAIGHT: Middle Tennessee's win over Southern Miss gives it seven straight victories to close out the season. The seven consecutive wins are the most since 1985 when the Blue Raiders went 11-0 in the regular season. The seven-game winning streak going into the 2010 season will be at least the fourth longest in the country.

GIVE ME 30: Under Rick Stockstill, the Blue Raiders are virtually a lock for a victory if they put up 30 points or more. MT is 19-1 under Stockstill when scoring 30 points, including a perfect 9-0 this season. The lone loss came at Louisville in 2007 when the Blue Raiders fell, 58-52.

QUICK HITTERS: With two touchdown passes against Southern Miss, Dwight Dasher ran his career total to 34 to surpass Mickey Corwin for fifth place on the all-time list ... Senior center Mark Thompson played in his 50th career game tonight against USM and picked up his team-high 43rd start ... The secondary of Alex Suber, Rod Issac, Jeremy Kellem, and Kevin Brown started together for the 18th straight game ... WR Garrett Andrews recorded his fourth touchdown reception of the season in the second quarter.

QUOTES
Middle Tennessee Head Coach Rick Stockstill: "First of all, I'd like to congratulate the University of Southern Mississippi -- they played a great game - and their fans should be applauded as well. This was a great atmosphere. But this right here is the Middle Tennessee State University football team. I've never been part of a team that plays with such effort, intensity, passion and toughness. I'm proud of every single one on this team. I've never been part of a team that plays harder than we do. Other teams can't match our intensity, enthusiasm and toughness and that was evident today. We fell behind 14-0 but we never quit. I thought this game was perfect example of a team playing hard with enthusiasm and toughness. We played harder and harder as we went on. We played smart. Dwight, Danny, Alex, and everyone, they all played well. This was a great team effort."
On Dwight Dasher returning to the game twice: Dwight was hurt a lot more than what he's letting on. He showed a lot of toughness and competiveness. Dwight now joins that elite club of 2,000 yards passing, 1,000 rushing. Not many people have done that. Vince Young at Texas, and Woody Danzler at Clemson; we had him when we were at Clemson. I thought Dwight was the perfect example of what our team stands for. That if you're hurt, if you can still walk, you're going to go out there on the next play.
Middle Tennessee Junior Quarterback Dwight Dasher (R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl MVP): Like I told coach... it wasn't an 'injury.' I mean, unless I would have broken something, I wasn't coming out of the game.
Middle Tennessee Senior Garrett Andrews On if the team peaked tonight: I think this team is capable of playing the way we are now all year long. If we could go back and play some teams we played before now, the results would be completely different. I definitely think we are peaking and we're not going to slow down.
Middle Tennessee Senior Linebacker Danny Carmichael Has the Program been elevated by this win? Definitely, this is our first bowl game. Getting to 10 wins, not many teams do that. I'd like to see the number after the bowl games are over. This is a great accomplishment for this team to get this win to sent me and our my teammates out. It's a testament to all of our hard work.

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