In case you haven't heard, the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders have a pretty important game coming up this weekend. At 12:30 Saturday inside Floyd Stadium, MTSU and Alabama-Birmingham will kick off to decide which team will be the champions of Conference USA.
Teams don't get this far without some significant moments throughout the regular season. From exciting touchdowns to clutch turnovers, the Blue Raiders have given their fans plenty of opportunities to cheer since the season kicked off September 1.
Had some of those moments gone differently, Middle Tennessee might not be in a position to win the conference this Saturday.
Here are the five most significant moments of the 2018 regular season for the Blue Raiders.
5. Brent Stockstill Returns from Injury vs. Charlotte
Coming off a crushing loss at Florida International, the Blue Raiders were battered and beaten. MTSU lost sparkplug Brad Anderson for the season against the Panthers and quarterback Brent Stockstill suffered a high ankle sprain in the 24-21 loss. So, it came as a surprise when Stockstill took the field for the homecoming game against Charlotte the following week.
You don’t just recover quickly from a high ankle sprain. Stockstill spent much of his week in the training room, missing practice all week long. All he did was complete 14-of-20 passes for 111 yards and three touchdowns in four quarters of play versus the 49ers.
His effort brought praise from his head coach and father Rick Stockstill. “He’s as good a leader as I’ve ever been around. I’m not just saying that because he’s my son. If his last name was Smith, I’d be up here beating my chest on him.”
4. Halftime Adjustments at Marshall
Marshall University is a tough place to play. The Herd win just over 80-percent of their games at home. In the first half of the game, it looked like the Blue Raiders would remain winless in Huntington in their fifth try at John C. Edwards Stadium.
Allowing five sacks and rushing for 21 yards on 18 attempts in the first half, the Blue Raiders were miraculously only down 17-10 at halftime.
Whatever adjustments were made at the half proved significant for Middle Tennessee as they allowed zero sacks and outscored Marshall 24-7 in the final two quarters to win the game 34-24.
3. Dominant Defense vs. UAB
Some might call this recency bias. I call it an integral piece to MTSU’s puzzle in 2018. Alabama-Birmingham was 9-2 and riding the best season in program history coming into the season’s final weekend.
In fact, the Blazers were averaging 32 points and 431 yards of total offense per game prior to their visit to Floyd Stadium. The Blue Raiders held them to three points and a mere 89 yards of total offense. Middle Tennessee combined for seven sacks and 12 tackles for loss.
Linebackers Khalil Brooks and DQ Thomas combined for 4.5 of those seven team sacks. It seemed like the pair were camped out in the Blazers backfield all game long.
Following the game, Brooks said, “We have a lot of energy on defense.” He continued, “We don’t care about where the ball is at. It can be on the two-yard line or the goal line. We just play.”
2. Reed Blankenship takes it the length of the field for a touchdown vs. Old Dominion
Perhaps the highlight play of the year came in the final moments of the first half at Old Dominion. MTSU led 24-10, but the Monarchs were poised to bring it within seven heading into the break.
With the ball on the two-yard line, ODU quarterback Blake Larussa stepped back and threw the ball over the middle. That’s when sophomore safety Reed Blankenship tipped and intercepted the pass in the end zone and took it the distance of the field for a Blue Raiders touchdown as time expired.
In an instant, the Blue Raiders went from potentially being up by just one touchdown to having a three-touchdown advantage going into the game’s second half.
MTSU poured it on in the third and fourth quarters, winning the game 51-17.
1. Two-point conversion versus Florida Atlantic
Lane Kiffin brought his defending C-USA champion Florida Atlantic Owls to town on the last day of September. The Owls were favored in the game and they led 21-3 at one point in the first half. The Owls seemingly had the Blue Raiders right where they wanted them.
Middle Tennessee mustered a touchdown in both the second and third quarters while the Blue Raiders defense held FAU to three third-quarter points. Suddenly, the Owls were within reach at 24-17 in the fourth quarter.
The Blue Raiders saved their best for last as their final drive of the night went for nine plays, including a tough fourth down conversion inside the 20. The drive ended with a Tavares Thomas touchdown with just 38-seconds remaining.
The only question was whether Coach Stockstill would opt to tie or go for broke with a two-point conversion try. He chose the latter.
On the two-point attempt, quarterback Brent Stockstill rolled out to his left and found Gatlin Casey in the back of the endzone to convert the two-point play and give MTSU a 25-24 lead with under 40 seconds remaining. Floyd Stadium went wild. The Blue Raider defense would close out the game and give MTSU the win.
Following the game, the senior quarterback said, “That’s the best one I’ve been a part of. It was the definition of a team win.”
Your last chance to see the Blue Raiders live and in-person in the ‘Boro is this weekend as they battle for the Conference USA crown.