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Blue Raiders eyeing bowl eligibility

Host FIU Saturday in Salute to Veterans game at 3 PM

November 8, 2013 · @MTAthletics

MURFREESBORO - Riding the crest of two last-play victories over Marshall and UAB, Middle Tennessee will focus on claiming their third consecutive win, as they play host to FIU (1-7, 1-3).

Kickoff is set for 3 PM with the game being televised on Fox College Sports Atlantic. Brendan Burke will call the action, with Ben Leber adding color commentary. Reporting from the sidelines will be Leslie McCaslin. The game will be shown locally on Comcast (702), Charter (304), along with AT&T U-Verse (647) and Verizon FiOS (300).

The Blue Raider Network will feature veteran Chip Walters handling play-by-play, while former Blue Raider and NFL quarterback Kelly Holcomb will provide color analysis. BRN affiliates include WGNS-AM 1450, and FM stations 89.5, 102.5/97.5, 100.5 and 101.9.

For Blue Raider Head Coach Rick Stockstill, playing FIU has a special meaning of sorts. It was on August 31, 2006, at Middle Tennessee, that Stockstill coached his very first college game. The opponent was FIU, playing their second Sun Belt Conference season, and first time in Floyd Stadium. MT prevailed 7-6 in a hard-fought battle that would be a preview of things to come. The Blue Raiders went on to earn a Sun Belt co-championship and a trip to the Motor City Bowl that December.

Overall, Stockstill is 5-2 against the Golden Panthers, 3-1 in Murfreesboro. The Blue Raiders could well be without the services of sophomore running back Jordan Parker, who will most likely miss his second consecutive game with an injury. Backups Reggie Whatley, who ran for a career-high 155 yards last week at UAB, Jeremiah Bryson and true freshman Shane Tucker will handle the ground attack, but both Whatley and Bryson are nursing injuries of their own.

Noting that winning won't be easy, that his team will have to earn everything that it gets, Stockstill predicted that FIU would play just as hard against the Blue Raiders as UAB did last week.

"I said last week that UAB was a good football team, and they proved that they are. FIU is also a good football team, and we will have to play just as hard against them," pointed out Stockstill. "They are big and strong up front, their offensive line is really big, and they are very athletic just like they always are."

Another Blue Raider stalwart, senior defensive end Dearco Nolan, did not play at UAB, and will be, as Stockstill noted, "a 2:59 PM decision on Saturday."

Blue Raider Defensive Coordinator Tyrone Nix recalled how Nolan contributed to a thrilling win at FIU last year, when the MT defense stopped a Panther wide receiver one yard short of the goal line on the last play of the game to take a 34-30 win.

"It was halftime and we had played poorly and were down 20-10," Recalled Nix. "I was getting ready to fire up the defense for the second half when Dearco asked if he could say something.

"He basically challenged the young men that wore the same uniform as him, that this was not the team that he was used to playing with, nor was it the team that had worked hard all summer to prove a point.
"He continued to say that he better see the team that he was used to playing with in the second half.
"That was a big inspiration to the team at the time, and when he was done, there wasn't anything left for me to say except 'Let's go play.'"

Nolan's speech prompted a second half comeback that saw the Blue Raiders out-score FIU 24-10 and go on to post four more Sun Belt wins that season over North Texas, Western Kentucky, South Alabama and Troy.

Today's game will be Middle Tennessee's annual Salute to Armed Services/ Veterans Day, and this year's activities will bring the national spotlight to Floyd Stadium on Saturday.

ESPN will telecast a segment of their extremely popular "College Gameday" television show on Middle Tennessee, with the focus being on former Marine Sgt. Steven Rhodes, who wanted to walk on and play football for the Blue Raiders. The show will air on ESPN from 8 -11 am on Saturday morning. The segment on Rhodes was filmed in the Kennon Blue Raider Sports Hall of Fame on Tuesday night and is scheduled to air at 8:30 AM.

As part of MT's annual Salute to Veterans/Service activities, Rhodes will lead the team onto the field carrying the American flag.

"It is an honor to carry the flag. I did it in the Marines and it's an honor to carry it here on Saturday," said Rhodes.

Rhodes and his teammates will be decked out in helmets with a new paint scheme. They will be white with patriotic red, white and blue MT logos.

At halftime, the Band of Blue will play the songs of each branch of the armed forces while veterans of each branch will walk through the center of the band as a group and be recognized by the fans.

Other activities for veterans as well as active military personnel will include a memorial service at 11:30 AM, and a picnic lunch at the Hall of Fame starting at 1 PM. The lunch, as well as tickets to the game, is sponsored by State Farm, Kroger, and Bunny Bread, and is free to all past and present military personnel and their families. Unfortunately, due to the recent government shutdown there will not be any military equipment displayed at the stadium gates.

Middle Tennessee will have an open date next weekend, and then travel to Southern Miss for a game on the 23rd. The Blue Raiders will close their regular season by hosting UTEP on Saturday, Nov. 30th.

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