A Championship is on the line Saturday for MT

November 1, 2001 · MT Media Relations

Should coaching football ever get old for Andy McCollum, he could always try another sport - say - track.

He might could specialize in hurdles - say - high hurdles.

McCollum already has the experience.

So far this season, his football team has cleared several of them. The most recent of which came last weekend against New Mexico State. With their backs so far up against the wall they needed a shoe-horn to pry themselves loose, the Blue Raiders put together a fourth quarter point barrage to beat the Aggies and move into sole possession of first place in the Sun Belt Conference.

"For us to be down the way we were down," said McCollum, "and to come back and believe the way we believed is what it's all about. I'm very proud of this staff because, as I've said all along, I think I have the best staff in the country. It was just another showing of their belief and the guys came out and executed their plan in the fourth quarter. It was a very big conference win for us and it makes this week even bigger."

A bigger hurdle.

In the form of Arkansas State.

With a win Saturday on Homecoming weekend the Blue Raiders will hold at least a share of the Sun Belt Conference championship. And championships are something MT hasn't experienced since its I-AA days in the Ohio Valley Conference - 1994 to be exact.

The Indians, although with more losses than victories on the season, come to Murfreesboro riding a crest of confidence after their own come-from-behind victory against Idaho last weekend. Quarterback Tommy Miller rallied his team from five points down, helping Arkansas State earn its second conference victory of the season.

"We know we have a great challenge ahead of us," said McCollum, when explaining what his team faces Saturday against ASU. "We have to come out and turn loose and play. Going back to last week, we had some seniors that got challenged and they stepped up and a lot of the younger players followed them. That's what winning is all about."

Perhaps no senior had more of an impact on the contest against New Mexico State than did Kendall Newson. Although already the best receiver to ever play for the Blue Raiders, holding virtually every receiving record in the books, Newson took things to the proverbial next level in the win over NMSU. In the fourth quarter alone he had seven catches for 119 yards, helped his squad convert two critical third downs and hauled in a 64-yard touchdown, the longest of his storied Blue Raider career, to help secure an MT victory. For his efforts, Newson was named as this week's Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Week.

"I thought Kendall Newson played his best game since I've been here," said McCollum. "Not just the catches, but the stuff downfield like knockdowns - just the total all-around effort. It might be one of the best individual performances I've seen since I've been here."

A victory on Saturday would also give McCollum a 10-game win streak at Floyd Stadium. But the Blue Raiders will also have to overcome some injury hurdles.

"We're probably like every other team in America right now," said McCollum. "We're banged up. We have a lot of bumps and bruises. When you play a physical team like New Mexico State you are going to be beaten up and sore."

Lost for the remainder of the season is running back Jamison Palmer, out with a fractured wrist. Jason Spray will also be out for Saturday's contest with a knee injury. Running back Dwone Hicks, who has 799 yards rushing on the season and 14 touchdowns, has been hampered with a nagging hamstring injury the past three games. The good news is that for the first time in three weeks, Hicks has practiced everyday and should be ready to go on Saturday.

The Blue Raiders will see nearly a mirror image of Hicks in ASU's Jonathan Adams. Some publications have him listed as one of the top 10 running backs in the country eligible for the NFL draft. "He's a good looking physical back who knows how to break tackles," explained McCollum. "We're going to have to do a good job of controlling him, that's for sure."

Of course the Blue Raiders can gain a huge advantage with a little help from the 12th-man this Saturday. Not only could he help MT on the offensive and defensive side of the ball, he may very well help them to the Sun Belt Conference Title

"We need to have our stadium full of blue," said McCollum. "We've been saying this all along and it's time people started listening because that's important to our team. We had the greatest fans that were there in the fourth quarter (last weekend). I don't know how many there were, but they made a difference in that football game for us. It made a difference to our defensive team to get off the field and it made a difference to our offensive team to make plays and keep drives going. Our kids feel that and feed off of it. That's what we mean by home field advantage. It's not that turf out there, it's people in the stands. We're playing for a co-championship and that hasn't been done here for awhile and it's never been done at this level. That's why Middle Tennessee people need to be here. I don't care if it's cold. We're going to play if it's cold and we need people out here with us. These kids deserve it. This staff still dreams of walking out there and seeing the stadium full of blue and there's no reason that it shouldn't be."

Kickoff for this week's game is scheduled for 2 PM.

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