MTSU avenges early-season loss with 20-17 road victory at Troy

MTSU football players hold up the Palladium Trophy, awarded to the winner against Troy, after the Blue Raiders defeated the Trojans 20-17 on the road Saturday. MTSU ATHLETIC COMMUNICATIONS

After losing the Palladium Trophy for the first time in eight years Week 2 against Troy, MTSU snatched it right back Saturday.

In the second part of a rare single-season, non-conference, home-and-home series, the Blue Raiders (3-6) controlled both sides of the ball against the Trojans (4-4), winning 20-17 on the road.

In fact, all three of the Blue Raiders victories this season -- FIU, Rice and Troy -- have come on the road.

"Great win for us. I'm really happy for our players," MTSU head coach Rick Stockstill said. "We had a good edge about ourselves tonight, and to me, that shows the improvement that these guys are making. ... I'm really proud of our guys."

It was a much better performance from MTSU Saturday than all the way back on Sept. 19, when Troy won in Murfreesboro 47-14.

The Blue Raiders controlled the possession, keeping the ball for 37:21 and running 12 more plays (74-62) than the Trojans. They did it by running the football effectively, stopping the run and winning the turnover battle 2-0.

"All week, we kind of spoke it into existence that no matter what the box looked like, we were going to run the ball," redshirt junior quarterback Asher O'Hara said. "All week in practice, we had really competitive team periods, and we all got better offensively, defensively and in special teams."

Troy took an early 3-0 lead, but MTSU answered with a touchdown on a 4-yard rush by redshirt junior Chaton Mobley to push ahead. The Raiders wouldn't lose the lead the rest of the way.

An interception by junior linebacker Johnathan Butler on the ensuing Trojan possession set up MTSU with another touchdown, the first of freshman running back Frank Peasant's career. It was followed by Troy's only touchdown before senior MTSU's Crews Holt made a 22-yard field goal right before halftime.

The 17-10 lead lasted all the way until Holt made his second field goal of the day, a 49-yarder for a new career long, with 2:37 left in the game. The Blue Raiders defense was simply too much for the Trojans offense, forcing three punts and an interception on four consecutive drives in the second half.

Troy managed 392 yards of offense, including only 92 rushing.

"At the beginning of the game, we didn't start out as fast or as physical as we wanted , so we emphasized our physicality and imposed our will [in the second half]," junior safety Gregory Grate said. "Going back to the first game against them, they really put up numbers against us. To be able to hold them like that, that's a really good win in my book."

With the defense making things tough for the Trojans, redshirt junior quarterback Asher O'Hara and the Raider offense went to work.

O'Hara completed 19-of-23 passes for 210 yards, but it was the running game that really helped MTSU keep possession. O'Hara ran 25 times for a team-high 86 yards, while Mobley had 13 carries for 57 yards. The Raiders combined for 51 rushes for 186 yards.

"The last week of practice, that's all (offensive coordinator Tony Franklin) was harping on was we were going to run the ball good," Mobley said. "We came here with the mindset that that's what we were going to do, and we got it done."

O'Hara's favorite target on the afternoon was redshirt junior Yusuf Ali, who caught seven passes for 90 yards.

Defensively, Grate finished with eight tackles and an interception, his Conference-USA-leading fourth of the season. His safety mate, senior Reed Blankenship, also had eight tackles.

The Blue Raiders will get back into Conference USA play next Saturday when they host Florida Atlantic on senior day at 2:30 p.m. in the regular-season finale.

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