Middle Tennessee quarterback Austin Grammer ran for three touchdowns and threw for another as the Blue Raiders turned back rival WKU, 50-47, in three overtimes in front of 24,911 at Floyd Stadium Saturday.
It was the C-USA opener for both teams and proved to be another epic battle in the 64th meeting between the rivals. Middle Tennessee (2-1) leads the all-time series 34-29-1 and dealt the Hilltoppers (1-2) the setback in their first game as a C-USA member.
Grammer, who rushed for 125 yards and threw for 218, completed a 25-yard touchdown pass to Ed'Marques Batties in the third overtime to send Middle Tennessee to victory. Batties' second reception of the game followed Garrett Schwettman's 27-yard field goal that had provided the Hilltoppers a 47-44 lead.
Grammer ran for a career-high 125 yards and his three rushing touchdowns also were a career best. He accounted for 343 yards total offense to lead the Blue Raider offensive attack. Middle Tennessee piled up 541 yards total offense.
WKU managed 718 yards total offense, including quarterback Brandon Doughty completing 43-of-66 passes for 593 yards; however, Middle Tennessee's defense rose to the occasion when it mattered most.
In addition to Grammer, tailback Reggie Whatley ran for 74 yards and Shane Tucker finished with 67 yards and a touchdown.
Middle Tennessee had taken a 34-31 lead on Cody Clark's 29-yard field goal with 2:39 remaining, but WKU answered when Schwettman connected from 24 yards out with 20 seconds remaining to force overtime.
The Hilltoppers went on top 41-34 on their first possession of the first overtime but the Blue Raiders answered when Grammer ran in from the 1 to even the slate.
The teams traded field goals in the second overtime to send the game into a third OT tied a 41-41.
WKU took a 47-44 lead on Schwettman's 27-yard field goal to start the overtime but Middle Tennessee secured victory when Grammer found Batties in the middle of the field. Batties hauled in the reception and rambled into the end zone where he was mobbed by his Blue Raider teammates.
After a high-scoring first half neither team was able to get on the scoreboard in the third quarter. Middle Tennessee went ahead 31-24 on Tucker's 2-yard run with 11:37 remaining in regulation. WKU came right back and evened the score when Doughty hit Mitchell Henry from 19 yards out.
Clark's 29-yard field goal had given Middle Tennessee a 34-31 lead with 2:29 remaining but the Hilltoppers forced OT when Schwettman connected on a 24-yard effort with 20 seconds remaining in regulation.
The first half was highlighted with offensive superlatives as the rivals combined for 664 yards total offense by halftime. WKU racked up 393 yards on 50 offensive plays in the first half and Middle Tennessee totaled 271 yards in the first two quarters.
The Hilltoppers went to the air for the majority of its first-half success with Brandon Doughty throwing for 324 yards and two touchdowns. His counterpart, Grammer, was equally impressive although he did most of his damage on the ground. Grammer rushed for 110 yards and two touchdowns in the first half to lead a Raider ground game that accounted for 167 yards.
Middle Tennessee jumped out to a 14-3 lead in the first quarter. Grammer's career-long 59 yard run put the Blue Raiders on the board with 7:20 remaining in the opening frame. Cody Clark's PAT capped a two-play, 67-yard drive.
After WKU's Garrett Schwettman put the Hilltoppers on the board with a 20-yard field goal, Middle Tennessee came back with another quick scoring drive. Parker's 7-yard run capped a four-play, 65-yard drive in just one minute that provided a 14-3 cushion with 1:23 remaining in the first quarter.
WKU got hot in the second quarter and scored on three straight drives to vault to a 24-14 lead but the Blue Raiders scored the final 10 points of the half to even the score, 24-24, at intermission. Clark's 37-yard field goal pulled the Blue Raiders to within 24-17 with 1:58 to play.
Even though the first half didn't contain many defensive highlights the biggest was turned in by Middle Tennessee's Shane Tucker, who intercepted Doughty in the waning stages of the half to give the Blue Raiders possession. Grammer's second rushing touchdown of the half capped a seven-play, 54-yard drive and Clark added the point after as Middle Tennessee rallied to tie the game 24-24 with 13 seconds remaining.
The Blue Raiders will step out of conference when they face in-state rival Memphis on the road Saturday. Kickoff is 6 p.m.
MT GAME NOTES
CAPTAINS: Today's game captains were S Kevin Byard, OL Isaiah Anderson, and FB Chase Pennycuff.
8TH LARGEST: Middle Tennessee's announced crowd of 24,911 ranked as the eighth largest crowd in school history. It was the most in Floyd since 25,908 came to see the Blue Raiders' 2010 opener against Minnesota.
GRAMMER TOPS 100: For the second time in his career and the first of the season, quarterback Austin Grammer topped the 100-yard rushing mark. Grammer finished the game with a career-high 125 yards and a a personal-best three rushing touchdowns.
ANOTHER PICK FOR D: With Jared Singletary's interception in the second quarter, the Blue Raiders have now collected 27 interceptions in its last 21 games. MT now has three on the season after registering 15 in 2013.
GOAL LINE STAND: Late in the third quarter, the Blue Raider defense came up with a big goal line stand when WKU had it 1st and Goal from the 6-yard line. On second down, WKU's Leon Allen was ruled as scoring a touchdown but after a review it was ruled he fell short at the 1-yard line. MT then held on the next two plays to regain possession. LB Trey Wafford made the stop on 4th down.
WORKING OT: Middle Tennessee and WKU needed three overtimes to decide Saturday's C-USA opener. It marked Middle Tennessee's seventh OT game as an FBS member. The Blue Raiders are now 4-3 in those games. It marked the Blue Raiders' third OT game in three seasons. Prior to 2011, MT had not played an OT game since 2003 when it played three. It marked the second time in three seasons MT and WKU played into OT. WKU beat Middle Tennessee 36-33 in double OT Oct. 6, 2011. The three OTs are the second-most of the FBS era. Middle Tennessee and UL-Lafayette played four overtimes in 2003.
QUICK HITTERS: Max Ugboaja, Shubert Bastien, Christian Henry and Leighton Gasque played in their team leading 40th career game today… Isaiah Anderson, Kevin Byard and Darius Johnson all made their 28th straight start to lead the Raiders … WR Marcus Henry has now caught at least one pass in 16 straight games which leads the Raiders … Austin Grammer's 59-yard TD run in the first quarter was the longest run of his career … Senior Chris Sharpe played in his first game of the season tonight after suffering a stress fracture in fall camp … RB Shane Tucker's 52-yard reception was the longest of his career … Jimal McBride recorded his first sack of the season and the second of his career during the second quarter … Jared Singletary came up with the second interception of his career in the second quarter … The Blue Raiders have now scored in 98 straight home games … This marked the first time an opponent has thrown for over 400 yards since Louisville in 2007
On win vs Western Kentucky:
"It was a heck of a game. I give Western Kentucky a lot of credit. They competed and battled ahead, but our guys' mental toughness showed tonight. I told our guys when we went up there in 2012 it was tied at halftime, and we won the second half because of our toughness. It was tied 24-24 at the half, and we came away with another one. We were warriors out there. I'm extremely proud of the way our guys competed tonight. It was a heck of a football game. I'm ecstatic.
On defensive efforts:
"We stopped the run pretty good. Their quarterback is really good, the tight end made some good catches. The goal line stand really showed great toughness. We overcame fourth down there in the first overtime and they score on the first play and we get to fourth down and punch it in. This team's energy and toughness that we play with is awesome. I hope people understand how big this win was tonight. It wasn't just beating your rival, this is a conference game who had a really good football team. We played smarter. We protected the ball. We didn't have foolish penalties where they did a couple times. They also had the one turnover and we were able to take it down before the half and score. I'm just really proud of this football team."
On touchdown pass from Grammer to Batties in OT:
"They played us man free in the overtimes and we took a shot. Ed did a nice job at the line of scrimmage and Austin gave him a catchable ball. It was a great play to fight and get in the end zone. I wish you guys could be in that locker room and experience it because there's some special people in there."
On Grammer's performance:
"They did a lot better job the second half of stopping our quarterback runs. The first half we got out of there with the long TD run, and the quarterback run that he scored on. I hate singling out people, and Austin played a good game, but the people around him, the o-line, did a great job tonight, the backs ran hard. This was a perfect example of a team win. To go to 3 overtimes and come out of it with a win against a team like Western Kentucky – just a a heck of a win."
On injuries throughout the game:
"I know we lost Lucas Hamilton in there, we lost Chris Sharpe. Duvall hurt his ankle a little bit then Kahari caught a cramp. When you throw the ball as much as them, that's a long night for those DBs to cover, so rightfully so they have a reason to be tired."
On the fans:
"I don't know why you wouldn't come to see us play. It's a great team to watch, if you're a student, live here in Murfreesboro, or just a fan, you're going to see a good team. I hope everybody continues to come out and have the same enthusiasm. Let's sell the thing out!"
On game vs WKU:
"I was just joking with Grammer, and this was the most fun game I've ever played in. Games don't even get that fun on the video games."
On the team's bond:
I love every player on the team. All of us have a bond. Coach does a great job of putting us in environments where we all are connected. We don't care who gets the ball, the glory, whatever. We are just trying to win."
On preparing for the game:
"We came into this game thinking it would be a dogfight. It was a rivalry game, conference game. We knew we were going into a heavyweight fight out there. Coaches did a great job of preparing us this whole week and we just went out there and executed."
On team win:
"Grammer did a great job of putting it on my back shoulder. Line did a great job of blocking. It was a great team win. Everybody put in work today. Everybody contributed to this win."
On team bond:
"Like Shane (Tucker) said, we work so hard and build that bond like we're brothers. It really is a family."
On offensive line:
"I say all the time that we get even more comfortable with each and every snap, even in practice. Our o-line makes it so easy. They kept me pretty clean tonight. They're definitely one of the best in the conference, if not the best, and definitely one of the best in the country. It gets a lot easier from snap to snap."
On the Blue Zoo:
"We love those guys. We love their support. They always come out in full force and we definitely appreciate the support. It was really loud in there. We were pleased with the crowd and really working on a sellout."