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MTSU pulls off 51-45 victory at Missouri

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MTSU running back I'Tavius Mathers rushed for 215 yards against Missouri on Saturday. Photo by Brent Beerends/MTSU Athletic Communications

COLUMBIA, Mo. - Middle Tennessee showed great resiliency and received strong play in all three phases of the game to secure a 51-45 road win against SEC foe Missouri Saturday.

The Blue Raiders (5-2) piled up 584 yards total offense to notch just their fourth win vs. a SEC foe in 26 tries.

It was a sterling performance all around. Middle Tennessee's offense was very efficient and balanced. The defense gave up some yards but came up with the crucial stops necessary to secure victory. The Blue-clad stop squad came away with two turnovers leading to 10 Middle Tennessee points, and kicker Canon Rooker nailed three field goals in the win.

Senior tailback I'Tavius Mathers continued to run roughshod. He had 215 yards on 28 carries, including a 71-yard touchdown. It marked the fifth straight 100-yard game for Mathers, who also had eight receptions for 48 yards and a score.

Quarterback Brent Stockstill was his usual solid self, completing 23 passes for 280 yards and touchdown passes of 15, 56, 4 and 5 yards in the win. Stockstill also rushed for 70 yards on seven carries as the Blue Raiders churned out 300 yards rushing.

Receiver Richie James had stellar game with 129 yards on five catches. He had two touchdowns, one rushing and one receiving.

Defensively, Alex Dale was a beast. He had a career-high 18 tackles, 13 solo, and a forced fumble. Chris Melton had 14 tackles and DJ Sanders finished with 11 total tackles, one forced fumble, one pass break-up and one-half sack.

Middle Tennessee scored on its first three drives to set a strong tone offensively.

After the Blue Raider defense came up with a big stop on Missouri's opening drive, Stockstill used his legs to set Middle Tennessee up in scoring position. Stockstill ran for a career-long 63-yard run to put the Blue Raiders in the "Blue Zone." Stockstill capped the drive with a 15-yard pass to Dennis Andrews to take the Blue Raiders to a 7-0 lead with 11:00 remaining in the first quarter.

Chris Melton came away with a fumble recovery on Missouri's second drive, and Middle Tennessee capitalized when Canon Rooker delivered his eighth consecutive field goal with a 39-yard effort to put the Blue Raiders on top 10-0.

Missouri answered to pull to within 10-7 on its next drive, but Rooker came back with a 28-yard field goal to cap a 10-play, 64 yard drive and provide a 13-7 Blue Raider lead.

After Missouri scored on consecutive touchdown drives to go on top 21-13, Mathers got loose along the Blue Raider sideline and motored 71 yards for his 11th rushing touchdown of the season to pull Middle Tennessee to within 21-20 with 12:20 remaining in the first half.

Just when it appeared Missouri was on the verge of extending the lead, the Blue Raider defense came up huge with its second forced turnover. Sanders forced a fumble following a reception inside the MT 20, and Darryl Randolph recovered the ball in the end zone for a touchback.

For the second time, Middle Tennessee converted the turnover into points when Stockstill rifled a pass to James, who split three defenders, pivoted at the 30 and raced 56 yards to paydirt to give the Blue Raiders a 27-21 lead with 6:59 remaining in the first half.

Missouri answered to regain the lead, 28-27, but the Blue Raider defense strung together consecutive three-and-outs and Middle Tennessee caught a break when Missouri was called for a procedure penalty following a punt at the end of the second three-and-out.

Middle Tennessee opted to have Missouri punt again. A bad snap on the second attempt set Middle Tennessee up at the Tiger 7. James scored on a reverse to turn the miscue into immediate points and a 34-28 lead, which stood at the half.

Missouri scored on its opening drive to go up 35-34. Just when it appeared a Blue Raider drive had stalled and they would have to go for a field goal, the Tigers were called for a facemask against Stockstill, resulting in moving the ball half the distance to the goal and an automatic first down. One play later Stockstill connected with Mathers for his third TD pass of the game to push the Blue Raiders ahead 41-35 with 11:17 remaining in the third stanza.

Middle Tennessee's defense held Missouri to a field goal as the Tigers sliced the lead to three, 41-38, at the start of the fourth quarter, but the Blue Raiders came back and equaled their largest lead when Stockstill connected with Andrews for a 5-yard touchdown pass. The fourth touchdown pass of the game for Stockstill staked Middle Tennessee to a 48-38 lead with 10:31 remaining.

Missouri stormed back on its next drive and scored a touchdown to close to within 48-45 midway through the fourth quarter.

Middle Tennessee answered with a 21-yard Rooker field goal to push the lead to six, 51-45, with 6:17 remaining to set the stage for the final stretch.

The Blue Raider defense came up big and forced a three-and-out to give the ball back to the offense, protecting a six-point lead. It came up with a final stop as the Blue Raiders notched the big road win.

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Brent Stockstill, I'Tavius Mathers, MTSU football, Richie James
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