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Middle Tennessee tames Catamounts in 45-24 rout

Blue Raiders use balanced attack in first game as C-USA member

August 29, 2013 · @MTAthletics

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. - Middle Tennessee ushered its' inaugural Conference USA season in style with a 45-24 victory in front of 20,011 strong at Floyd Stadium on Thursday evening.

The Blue Raiders (1-0) opened the 2013 campaign with a balanced attack as the offense recorded 475 yards, while the defense picked up two interceptions and forced three sacks. MT pounded 270 yards on the ground, connecting for 205 in the air. Thursday's triumph over WCU (0-1) marked the first season-opening victory for Middle Tennessee since upending FIU in 2006.

Sophomore tailback Jordan Parker notched a career-high 156 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries. Parker bested his previous career-high of 154 set last season at South Alabama.

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Quarterback Logan Kilgore, who left the game early with a shoulder injury, completed 12-of-18 passes for 144 yards with a touchdown. Austin Grammer filled in nicely, completing seven-of-nine for 61 yards and a 10-yard rushing touchdown.

Defensively, the Blue Raiders collected nine tackles-for-loss with three sacks. T.T. Barber and Christian Henry led the way with nine tackles each. Steven Roberts and Chris Sharpe also snagged interceptions during the game.

In the first quarter, Middle Tennessee used a combination of big plays ranging from a sprinting touchdown to a punt return TD. The Raiders put together 151 yards and forced WCU to just 47 in the opening period.

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The 99th season of Blue Raider football started off with a bang as Parker booked it 65 yards to pay dirt to give MT the first touchdown of the game. It marked the first score from scrimmage for Middle Tennessee since Clint Marks threw a 73-yard pass to Desmond Gee at South Carolina in 2006. 

The Catamounts, who were driving down the field, took a calculated risk on fourth and two. The Blue Raider defense put together a big stop, pushing the Cats back six yards and taking over possession. From there, the Raiders drove down 67 yards in nine plays. Kilgore connected to senior Jacob Corbaley on a 10-yard route to put the Raiders up 14. The scoring play was the first in Corbaley's career.

Special teams took the stage for big plays when Kyle Griswould returned a punt for 57-yard touchdown. The Columbus, Ga., product became the first Blue Raider to return a TD since Kerry Wright ran 75 yards against Akron on Sept. 11, 2004.

To start the second quarter, Kilgore bulleted a 31-yard strike to newcomer Devin Clarke to set up a five-yard touchdown run by William Pratcher on the next play.

WCU broke the goose egg by capitalizing off a Blue Raider turnover midway in the second frame. Richard Sigmon nailed a 21-yard field goal to make it a 28-3 contest, while Cody Clark added a field goal to extend the Raider lead.

Troy Mitchell helped Western Carolina score its first touchdown when he zipped a 39-yard pass to Karnorris Benson with 1:48 remaining in the half. The Cats converted on the two-point conversion to cut the deficit to 31-11.

Middle Tennessee coughed up a fumble to set the way for WCU to score on a one-play touchdown. The Catamounts cut the Blue Raider lead to 31-18 at the half. The Blue Raiders put together 248 yards, limiting WCU to 181 total yards. Kilgore was 11-of-17 at the half with 122 yards and a touchdown. Parker led the rushing attack, tallying 114 yards on 14 carries.

It was a quiet third quarter until Grammer, who went in for the injured Kilgore, drove the Raiders down the field 73 yards. The Tuscaloosa, Ala., native scrambled for a 10-yard rushing touchdown to put MT up 38-18 with 3:24 remaining in the third. MT put together 135 yards, holding WCU to 90 during the third quarter.

The rushing attack continued its dominance with a career-long 38-yard touchdown by Pratcher with 8:42 left in the game. WCU added another touchdown strike with less than four minutes running to make it a 45-24 contest.

Middle Tennessee returns to action next Saturday, Sept. 7 with a visit to North Carolina. The game is set for 11:29 a.m. CT/12:29 ET and will air on the ACC Network.

GAME NOTES

CAPTAINS: Tonight's game captains were Josh Walker, Josh Davis and Dearco Nolan.

FOURTH STRAIGHT: Middle Tennessee quarterback Logan Kilgore made his fourth straight season opening start tonight and will be one of seven current signal-callers nationally to have that distinction. Kilgore will join Kolton Browning, ULM; Taylor Martinez, Nebraska; Taylor McHargue, Rice; Aaron Murray, Georgia; Corey Robinson, Troy: and Nathan Scheelhaase, Illinois.

PARKER SCORES QUICK: Sophomore Jordan Parker got the Blue Raiders on the board fast against WCU by rushing 65 yards on the opening play for a touchdown. It marked the first time in the FBS era Middle Tennessee has scored on the game's first play. It marked the fourth rushing touchdown of his career.

PARKER TOPS 100: Jordan Parker registered his fifth career 100-yard rushing game in the win over Western Carolina. Parker had a career-high 156 yards on 22 carries to give him four 100-yard games in his last five outings.

GRISWOULD TAKES ONE BACK: Senior Kyle Griswould registered the first punt return for a touchdown in his career when he brought one back 57 yards late in the first quarter against WCU. It marked the first punt return for a touchdown by Middle Tennessee since Kerry Wright went 75 yards at Akron on Sept. 11, 2004.

23-3: Middle Tennessee has now had a player reach the 100-yard mark 26 times under Rick Stockstill to move its record to 23-3 in those games. MT is now 145-50-1 all-time when a player tops the 100-yard mark.

FIRST TIME STARTERS: Middle Tennessee had five first time starters against WCU. The first timers were Alexandro Antoine (DE), Josh Chester (C), Reginald Farmer (S), Jimal McBride (DT), and Jared Singletary (CB).

GRAMMER STEPS UP: Following an injury to Logan Kilgore, redshirt freshman Austin Grammer had his first chance under center. The Tuscaloosa, AL product directed the offense in his first full drive 13 plays and 73 yards for a touchdown. The score was a 10-yard keeper by Grammer himself.

GROUND ATTACK: Middle Tennessee rushed for 270 yards in the win over Western Carolina to top the 200-yard mark for the 27th time under Rick Stockstill. The Blue Raiders have had 19 of the 200 yard outings since the 2009 season. The 270 yards rank as the seventh most in the Stockstill era.

QUICK HITTERS: Middle Tennessee opened its 99th season of football tonight against WCU ... Tonight was Middle Tennessee's first football game as a member of C-USA ... Josh Davis and Josh Walker played in their 37th career games tonight to tie Jimmy Staten for the most on the team ... Logan Kilgore made his team-leading 26th start ... LB Stephen Roberts recorded his first career interception late in the first quarter ... DT Patrick McNeil had his first career sack in the first quarter ... William Pratcher scored his first touchdown since 2011 early in the second quarter ... PK Cody Clark made his first career field goal when he connected on a 30 yarder late in the second quarter ... The Blue Raiders are now 31-3 under Stockstill when scoring 30 or more points in a game ... CB Chris Sharpe had the second interception of his career in the third quarter to stop a WCU scoring threat ... Pratcher's 38-yard touchdown run was the longest of his career ... Marine and freshman Steven Rhodes recorded four tackles and a half sack in his collegiate debut. 

QUOTES

Middle Tennessee Head Coach Rick Stockstill

On tonight's game: 

I thought we played well, especially in the second half. We came back and made a nice run at the end. We had a great first half. Our offense moved the ball even though we had a couple turnovers on drives we thought we could have scored on. Our defense had a little lapse in the second half, but overall we got the win and that's what counts.

On Logan Kilgore's injury:

He hurt his shoulder so we'll see how it comes out this next week.

On QB Austin Grammer:

I thought he played well. I think he got lucky on one ball that should've been picked off, but I think he did a nice job. He did really well with his reads and leading the offense. I think he did well.

On Jordan Parker's touchdown run:

I think our offensive line did a great job. We were more physical up front, but we had more guys in the boundary than they did and up front we did a great job on Jordan's (Parker) run. But he did a great job too finding the hole and making a good run.

On the running game:

I think all of our backs did a great job. I'm not sure what we rushed for as a group, but they all did a great job. William (Pratcher) had some good runs up the middle and around the edge, but all of our backs did a great job.

On the defense tonight:

I thought our defense played really well for the first 26 minutes of the game. We had a turnover there early, but the defense worked hard and held them to a field goal. We just had two deep balls go against late there in the half, but we came back in the second half really did a great job.

On the special teams:

I thought we were really good on special teams tonight. We got a return touchdown, which is always good. We missed a chip shot field goal and we're still trying to determine his range, but I thought (Josh) Davis punted the ball really well tonight and for the most part we were really good on special teams. However, we do have to figure some things out still with kicking field goals.

On tonight's crowd:

I thought the crowd was great tonight. It was good to see all the students here tonight, but we need them all to come back and keep filling the stands. We need all the alumni, students and fans to keep coming. They got really loud a couple times and that's always good to have.

CB Kenneth Gilstrap

On tonight's game:

Our goals tonight were to get the win. Of course you'd always like the shutout, but we got the win and that's what we were going for. 

On the defense's play:

Coach (Tyrone) Nix is a very fiery guy and that's why we play that way, but he's going to hold us accountable too. We could've played better; we gave up a couple big plays and that's not us. We need to get things fixed before next week and make sure we stay focused for the entire game, but it's always nice to get a victory and start the season 1-0.

QB Austin Grammer

On playing tonight: 

They always tell us to prepare like we're going to play because anything can happen. We have a lot of weapons on this team especially at receiver. They make big plays and make me look good and that's great to have those guys on your team.

On Logan Kilgore's injury:

I didn't see the play, but I saw Logan coming off the field. My initial reaction was that he messed up his helmet or something and would only be out for one play, but Coach (Buster) Faulkner said I had to go and step up.

On being ready to play: 

Our second teamers get a lot of reps during practice so I've gotten my work. I think it's just mental at this point with me because I know I can play and when you get thrown into a situation like this you have to perform.

Western Carolina Head Coach Mark Speir

On tonight's game: 

Middle Tennessee came out, had a great plan, executed it and did what they needed to do to win. My hat is off to Coach [Rick] Stockstill. He's got a great program, he's a great friend and I wish him the best of luck.

On the team's effort:

I'm very proud of our football team. That thing could have gotten ugly right there before the half and our guys came out, battled and created some turnovers. That's something that Middle Tennessee doesn't normally do. That was a positive part, that we were able to create some turnovers that created some momentum.

On correcting mistakes: 

I thought we made a lot of those first-game errors that you always worry about, especially with a young football team. We gave up a punt return for a touchdown. We had some substitution issues that made us burn some timeouts. We're down there after Troy [Mitchell] got knocked out in the second half and we threw a pick in the red zone. You have to come away with at least a field goal. That was a big turning point. We were battling the whole game and we give a turnover.

On moving forward:

I love this team. Never was there any finger pointing or blaming, only encouragement. We have to grow up. We played a really good Conference USA football team tonight. We were able to stand toe-to-toe with them for most of the ballgame; we just wore down at the end. That's where those extra 22 scholarships come into play. It works down there at the very end. I'm excited about our football team. We have a tough matchup next week with Virginia Tech, but then we get into SoCon play. We've got another week for these young pups to grow up, then we'll be ready for when SoCon gets here.

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