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Raiders edged by East Carolina in C-USA home opener

Byard records personal-best 15 tackles in loss

October 5, 2013 · @MTAthletics

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. - Middle Tennessee's first inaugural home Conference USA game remained close the entire afternoon, but balanced play from East Carolina helped the Pirates edge the Blue Raiders 24-17 in front of 20,109 strong at Floyd Stadium Saturday.

The Pirates (4-1, 2-0 C-USA) accrued over 500 yards offensively, while holding the Blue Raiders (3-3, 1-1 C-USA) to just seven points in the final three quarters.

Middle Tennessee took a 10-7 lead into the second quarter, but East Carolina out scored MT 17-7 in the final three frames. 

MT tied the game at 17 in the final stages of the third quarter. ECU struck back in the fourth quarter when Shane Carden connected to Justin Hardy for the game-winning 21-yard touchdown. 

The Raiders accrued 334 yards on 69 plays, while ECU collected 511 for the contest. Logan Kilgore tossed 28 completions for 245 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions for the Raiders. The senior signal caller reached his third 200-yard game this season. 

Receiver Marcus Henry led the team with a career-best five catches for 65 yards. The MT rushing attack was led by Whatley with 55 yards on 10 carries.

Defensively, Middle Tennessee had two Raiders reach double-digit stops. Redshirt sophomore Kevin Byard snagged a career-best 15 tackles with a fumble recovery and a pass breakup. Linebacker T.T. Barber had 10 stops. Meanwhile, Leighton Gasque inked his 14th career sack in the fourth quarter to move into a tie with Tavarres Jones for fourth all-time in school history. 

On the opening drive of the game, East Carolina marched down the field 75 yards to take a seven-point lead. The Raiders answered on the next possession with an extensive 15-play drive that went 79 yards in 4:33. It was capped with Jeremiah Bryson's first career rushing touchdown.

Byard recorded his first career fumble recovery thanks to a strip from teammate James Roberson. That recovery set up a 22-yard field goal by Cody Clark to put the Raiders up 10-7 at the end of the first quarter. In the first quarter, the Raiders outgained ECU 147 to 97 in total yardage.

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East Carolina quarterback Carden gave the Pirates the go-ahead touchdown with his one-yard scramble at the 8:27 mark. The Blue Raiders were re-energized themselves going into the half by stopping Carden short of a touchdown at the MT one yardline as time expired.

At the break, ECU accumulated 242 yards on 44 plays, while Middle Tennessee accrued 199 on 45 plays. Kilgore was 17-of-23 for 134 yards with an interception. Reggie Whatley led the rushing attack with 37 yards on six carries. Carden led East Carolina with 18 completions out of 24 attempts for 155 yards.

Middle Tennessee's defense once again stepped up against ECU in the third quarter. MT forced the Pirates into a 35-yard field goal attempt, which failed.

The MT scoreless skid was snapped, tying the game at 17-17 when Kilgore found Tavarres Jefferson for a 26-yard touchdown. The MT offense completed the 80-yard drive in 2:47.

A 51-yard kick return by ECU's Lance Ray paved way for a four play, 42 yard scoring drive. Carden found Hardy for a 21-yard touchdown to give ECU the 24-17 edge. Carden finished the day with 43 completions for 365 yards and one TD. 

The potential Middle Tennessee comeback was halted when ECU's Damon Magazu intercepted the ball. The East Carolina offense melted the clock down in the final three minutes to proceed to its second Conference USA victory.

Next weekend, the Blue Raiders visit North Texas for a C-USA showdown. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. CT in Denton, Texas.

GAME NOTES

CAPTAINS: Today's game captains were Josh Walker, Dearco Nolan and Sammy Seamster.

GASQUE TIES JONES: With his late fourth quarter sack against East Carolina, Leighton Gasque ran his career mark to 14. That total ties him with Tavarres Jones for fourth place on the all-time sack list and he needs one more to tie Anthony McCord for third.

KILGORE TOPS 200: For the third time this season, quarterback Logan Kilgore went over the 200-yard passing mark with 245 yards on 28 completions against East Carolina. Kilgore now has 17 200-yard passing games for his career to rank third all-time. He needs one more to tie Wes Counts and Clint Marks for the all-time mark.

HENRY HAS CAREER DAY: Junior Marcus Henry had a career-best five receptions today against East Carolina. His previous high in a game was three catches on four different occasions.

TURNOVER MACHINE: Sophomore Kevin Byard is turning into a turnover machine in his young career. Through 18 career games, Byard now has forced or gained nine turnovers. He has six interceptions, two forced fumbles, and one fumble recovery. His fumble recovery against ECU was the first of his career.

QUICK HITTERS: MT fell to 50-22-2 all-time on Homecoming ... WR Kyle Griswould made his team-leading 21st straight start today ... Kyle Griswould has now caught at least one pass in 28 straight games which ranks fourth longest in school history ... DT Jimmy Staten, P Josh Davis, and OL Josh Walker all played in their 42nd career games which is tops on the team ... Leighton Gasque made his first career start today at right defensive end ... OL Daniel Stephens and C Nick Nunez also made their first collegiate starts today ... RB Jeremiah Bryson recorded his first career rushing touchdown in the first quarter ... Kevin Byard recorded his first career fumble recovery in the first quarter ... Pat McNeil had his second career sack late in the second quarter ... Kevin Byard recorded a career-high 15 tackles.

QUOTES

Middle Tennessee Head Coach Rick Stockstill

On tonight's game:

It was a great football game. It breaks my heart that we didn't get the win, but I'm really proud of them. We got a lot better this week and we need to keep getting better next week. It's an emotional game. It is every week, but I'm really proud of our guys. They played really well. We knocked a couple balls out on that last drive and just couldn't get the recoveries, but they played really hard against a really good team.

On the team going forward:

This is a resilient team and a mentally tough football team. We'll get back to work tomorrow and get better next week. It was a really good football game and everyone that saw it should be proud of our guys.

Guard Josh Walker

On the tonight's game:

I feel like it was a missed opportunity. They're a really good team so give them credit, but we didn't execute like we should have. We played really well together. We did have a little chip on our shoulder I thought, a little edge and that's always good to have. We just couldn't get over the hump today. If we can put a whole game together, we'll be a very good team.

On the turnovers on offense:

It's really deflating when you're driving and you don't get any points, but that's part of it. We just need to get back to work this week and get ready for North Texas.

Safety Kevin Byard

On today's game...

I knew going into the game they were going to throw a lot of screens and a lot of plays out to the sideline. I feel like we didn't tackle as well as we needed to today, but we were physical and that's our identity. We just weren't able to get the win today, but we'll get back to work this week and get the things fixed we need to fix and go to North Texas next Saturday.

East Carolina Head Coach Ruffin McNeill

On tonight's win:

It was a fist fight. We knew that coming into the game. Stock's got a really good football team; we knew that coming in. We have a really good football team too. We knew it would be emotional coming in and that it would be a tough environment. Stock's been here eight years, he's got his own kids and he's got a great staff. He's got a great football team. I'm really proud of our kids for fighting and grinding.

We know that in order to accomplish our goals, we have to win games playing against top coaches. This league's full of top football coaches. Every week, we have to be ready to pull it out and fight, and be fortunate to win. I'm very proud of how we fought and I'm very proud of our kids.

On missed opportunities offensively:

We told them, "just keep doing your job and keep playing the next play." We made some mistakes, but you will against a good team. We overcame them, we kept fighting and we came out with a win.

On being forced to make adjustments in the gameplan:

Stock is a great coach and he's got a great staff. We talk about adjustments and what we have to do to make adjustments. They have an experienced offensive line and an experienced quarterback. Tyrone Nix does a great job on defense. This was a big win for us, as big a win as last week. To win this one, under these circumstances, coming off last week, is big. We get 24 hours to enjoy and then we start getting ready for the next one.

Quarterback Shane Carden

On the win:

If you want to win a championship, you have to win tough road games. We know going in that it was going to be a very physical game. They're a tough team. It's a great win for us.

I thought we drove the ball great. That first drive, we go down and score. Throughout the game, we're driving the ball great, but then we don't get that touchdown at the end of the first half. We kind of stalled at times. Some negative plays, false starts, fumbles and things like that. We're moving the ball well; we just have to eliminate the negative plays.

On closing out the game:

We didn't play consistently the whole game, but to hold onto the ball those final two minutes with some runs and a few pass plays and close things out, to complete those in a timely manner was huge.

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