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This Week in Blue Raider FB: End of a Rivalry

MT and Tennessee Tech battled it out for 70 years

November 19, 2013 · @MTAthletics

November 22, 1997 - A rivalry comes to an end

Rivalries are a big part of college sports, especially college football. Middle Tennessee's biggest rival now is Western Kentucky. There are many reasons for that; relevance, proximity and conference alignment are just a few. That was not always the case though.

The Blue Raiders had a fierce rivalry with Tennessee Tech that lasted around 70 years. It is believed to have started over animosity from Cookeville as Murfreesboro beat out the town on the Cumberland Plateau for one of the state's normal schools. The rivalry became so heated that the men's basketball teams had two fights, one in Cookeville in 1986 and the other in Murfreesboro in 1990. The football game, however, turned the rivalry into a classic.

Middle Tennessee and Tennessee Tech played primarily on Thanksgiving Day until 1971 when the game was moved to the Saturday before Thanksgiving. In the 70 years between 1928 and 1998, the schools met in the final game of the season all but six times, the true definition of a rivalry.

The rivalry begat many pranks between the two schools over the years. At one point, Middle Tennessee students were said to have let livestock loose in some buildings on the campus in Cookeville. Then some Tech students supposedly hired a plane to fly over Floyd Stadium and drop leaflets saying "Beat MTHS," which stood for Middle Tennessee High School.

The pranks came to a head in the 1950s when some Tech students snuck onto the campus in Murfreesboro and painted graffiti on some buildings. The pranksters were caught by some Middle students, held prisoner, had their heads shaved, and were forced to clean up the graffiti. As a result, department store magnate Fred Harvey donated a totem pole in 1960 to the winner of the football game. "Harvey," as the trophy is called by the Blue Raiders, has been the prize ever since.

MT and Tech have produced some classic gridiron games. Charles Murphy's 1965 team was trying to finish the season undefeated for the third time in nine seasons. They were tied with the Golden Eagles 21-21 with just a few minutes to go in the game. Tech was moving the ball down for what appeared to be a game-winning score, when they decided to throw a pass. It was intercepted by a Blue Raider and returned for the go-ahead touchdown. The "Turkey Day Classic," as it's known in Murfreesboro, was won by MT 28-21 to preserve their 10-0 record and their sixth Ohio Valley Conference title in 10 years.

James "Boots" Donnelly was hired to coach the football team in 1979. The program had struggled the few years before, going 12-31-1 under previous coach Ben Hurt. The Blue Raiders did not fair a lot better in Donnelly's first season, losing their first nine contests. But Tech came to Murfreesboro on November 17 that year and the Blue Raiders treated them nicely. Middle Tennessee eked out a 17-14 victory, the first of what would become 140 wins under Donnelly, cementing his legacy as one of the best coaches in school history.

Just three years later Boots took his Raiders to Cookeville. Middle Tennessee was looking for their best season to date under their young head coach. They were 7-3 and the biggest game of the year would be played on the road at Tucker Stadium. Tied 3-3 late in the game, the Blue Raiders blocked an Eagle punt and returned for the winning touchdown. The 10-3 win gave MT an 8-3 record, 5-3 in the OVC.

The final November installment of the rivalry was held on November 17, 1997. The Blue Raiders lost that contest 30-20 in Cookeville, and fell to 4-6 on the season. Just two years later the Raiders left Tennessee Tech in the OVC and jump to Division 1-A where they joined the Sun Belt Conference in 2001. The football game has only been played twice since that meeting in '97. The Raiders defeated the Eagles 19-16 in Cookeville on October 3, 1998. Then, an open date on the Middle Tennessee schedule for 2006 gave the team's another chance to play in Murfreesboro. The Blue Raiders won that one too, 44-0 en route to their first Division 1-A bowl game.

Middle Tennessee owns the all-time record with a 36-32-7 advantage. "Harvey" still graces the Blue Raider campus, now encased in glass in the Blue Raider Hall of Fame. The baseball teams still play a home-and-home series every spring. Rick Insell still schedules the Golden Eagles women's basketball team from time to time to relive the great games the two squads used to play. However, the rivalry is over in most sports. With the Golden Eagles still in the OVC and still participating in 1-AA football, it is hard to see this rivalry every getting the boiling point it once had. The memories of the rivalry, however, still linger in many Blue Raider minds.

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