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Seniors to play final home game on Saturday

Kickoff set for 2:30 PM

November 25, 2011 · Athletic Communications
MURFREESBORO, Tenn. - Middle Tennessee will say goodbye to two dozen seniors when they host Florida International on Saturday in the final home game of the season for the Blue Raiders. Game time at Floyd Stadium will be 2:30 PM.

The game will be broadcast live on the Blue Raider Network, with Chip Walters handling the play by play and former Blue Raider quarterback Kelly Holcomb providing color analysis of the game. Flagship stations for the BRN are WNSR 560 AM in Nashville, and WMOT 89.5 FM and WGNS 1450 AM in Murfreesboro. The game can also be heard on WGNS’ FM affiliates, 100.5 and 101.9.

Coach Rick Stockstill had words of praise for the 2011 senior class.

“A lot of these seniors had to play as freshmen when they got here because we didn’t have the depth and the numbers at certain positions. A lot of them have played in a lot of ball games since they arrived. And we have some other seniors that are junior college guys, but all of them have been instrumental in developing this program. Seniors always have a special place in your heart.

“They have been to two bowl games, and they have been part of some historical wins in this program. And all of them have, or will graduate this spring. I think every one of them will be successful in their lives, in whatever career path that they choose. I have a lot of respect for these seniors.”

While Middle Tennessee will have one more contest remaining on the schedule, a game at North Texas next Saturday, and the seniors want to leave their home fans with a victory.

The Blue Raiders have a 4-2 edge over FIU in the series, and a 3-0 mark at home. Stockstill is 4-1 against the Panthers.

Last year, Middle Tennessee prevailed in a thriller in Miami, 28-27, and both teams went to bowl games. FIU defeated Toledo in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, and the Blue Raiders fell to Miami (Ohio) in the GoDaddy.com Bowl.

Both teams came into the season with high hopes and expectations but both have struggled, the Blue Raiders in the second half of the season and the Panthers in the middle of the campaign.

Middle Tennessee enters the game hoping to snap a four-game losing streak and close the season with two wins. FIU was the pre-season choice to win the Sun Belt Conference, and opened 2011 with an impressive three-game win streak over North Texas, Louisville, and UCF. The Panthers then lost three of their next four games, two of them being to Sun Belt contenders Louisiana and Arkansas State. Since then, they have won three of their last four, and bring a 7-4 mark (4-3 in the SBC) to Murfreesboro.

Since their 38-14 win at FAU in October, the Blue Raiders have dropped four consecutive games in Sun Belt play, and now have a 2-8 overall mark and are 1-5 in the SBC. A third consecutive bowl bid and a winning season are no longer a possibility, but Stockstill noted that it was not for lack of effort.

“Emotionally, those first five games took a lot out of us, losing three of them by three points each, and I don’t know if we ever truly recovered from it,” Stockstill noted. “I know these last three games haven’t been our best, we haven’t played very well. We’ve had a ton of injuries, and all of that is part of the game. I understand that, but it has an effect on each game.

“I said it back in August, I like the character of this team, and I still like the attitude and character of this team. We’ve got to play a little better and a little smarter. If we do that, then maybe the ball does bounce different. We’ve got good players and I respect how hard they have played each game.”

Middle Tennessee will have its hands full with a talented FIU team, headed by 2010 Player of the Year, T.Y. Hilton.

“He has game-changing ability, in the kicking game as well as on offense. We have to be cognizant of where he is at all times,” said Stockstill. “There is always the threat of him taking a kickoff or a punt back for a touchdown.”

Stockstill has tabbed junior Jeff Murphy to start at quarterback for the second straight game, but sophomore Logan Kilgore will play. Benny Cunningham will start at running back in his second game back from an injury.

Murphy and Cunningham will be key players as the Blue Raiders try to halt a season-long streak in which the opponents have jumped out to big early leads as the result of Middle Tennessee turnovers and missed assignments. Even though there were no official turnovers against Arkansas State, Stockstill was just as concerned about failed efforts on fourth down. “As far as I am concerned, we got stopped several times on fourth down, and to me that is a turnover. We gave up the ball without scoring.”

“I know that this season has not been the year that any coach, or player, or fan or supporter of us expected, but when you are in this business, there is going to be some adversity. We have a big challenge ahead of us, and hopefully we will play our best game of the season this week.

There will be no television for this game, but fans may go to GoBlueRaiders.com for live stats and web audio. Twitter updates are available @mtathletics.

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