A game of inches: Blue Raider defense stands tall on final play versus FIU
Football is a game of inches.
On Saturday, Oct. 13, Middle Tennessee football (4-2, 2-1 Sun Belt) found that out, winning an instant classic against FIU (1-6, 0-3 Sun Belt) by the final score of 34-30.
The game came down to the final play. FIU drove down to the Middle Tennessee 31-yard line and with one second left, FIU quarterback Jake Medlock threw a 30 yard pass to Willis Wright, who was denied the touchdown by Leighton Gasque and a host of other MT defenders, tackling Wright at the MT one-yard line as time expired.
The Blue Raiders came out of the gates at a sluggish pace, falling behind 20-3 at one point in the first half against Jake Medlock and the Golden Panthers. MT did not flinch, outscoring Florida International 24-10 in the second half in a stunning comeback win, picking up a key Sun Belt conference victory.
MT’s offense compiled 267 passing yards and 256 rushing yards, finishing the game with a season-high 523 total yards of offense.
Senior running back Benny Cunningham had another career game, rushing a career-high 36 times, while recording another career high with 230 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns, adding four receptions for 55 receiving yards as well. Blue Raider quarterback Logan Kilgore finished the game 17-for-30, with 267 passing yards and adding one touchdown through the air.
Top Blue Raider receiver Anthony Amos also continued his impressive season, making multiple spectacular catches while compiling career highs with 8 receptions for 148 yards, and recording one receiving touchdown.
The Blue Raiders’ defense started out slowly, but finished strong in the second half in which MT gave up only 10 points. Craig Allen led the way, recording 10 tackles, once again going over double-digit tackles for the third consecutive game, while also registering his first sack of the season.
FIU finished the game with 522 total offensive yards, with quarterback Jake Medlock putting up a strong performance, completing 24-of-38 passing attempts for 380 passing yards and 2 touchdowns.
In the first quarter, the game’s only turnover, a fumble by FIU, led to the first points scored of the game when MT kicker Carlos Lopez connected on a 33-yard field goal to give the Blue Raiders a 3-0 lead. FIU answered when Medlock threw a 25-yard touchdown to Glenn Coleman, giving FIU a 6-3 lead following a missed extra point.
At the 13:01 mark toward the beginning of the second quarter, FIU struck again, when De’Andre Jasper bolted for a 26 yard touchdown off a reverse play call, to build a 13-3 lead for the Golden Panthers. Late in the second quarter with 1:39 remaining, FIU running back Darian Mallory ran it in from one yard away for another touchdown, bringing FIU to a 20-3 lead.
MT desperately needed a score before the half. After putting together a couple of plays and driving down the field, Kilgore threw a 20-yard strike to Anthony Amos in the corner of the endzone for a touchdown, bringing the gap to 20-10 at halftime for the Blue Raiders.
MT came out of the half firing on all cylinders, using two huge catches from Kyle Griswould and Amos to get into the Golden Panther red zone. Cunningham capped off the opening second half drive, scoring on a one-yard goal line carry, his 10th touchdown of the season, cutting the FIU lead to 20-17.
Shortly after MT’s opening drive, which resulted in a touchdown, FIU drove down the field, with the drive eventually stalling. FIU kicker Jack Griffin converted on a 45-yard field goal to extend the Golden Panther lead to 23-17.
To begin the fourth quarter at the 14:18 mark, Carlos Lopez connected on his second field goal, this one from 30 yards out, as FIU still held the slight three-point lead at 23-20.
The Blue Raiders gained the lead with a 24-yard touchdown scamper from Cunningham to take a 27-23 lead, only the second lead that MT had captured since the opening field goal by kicker Carlos Lopez in the first quarter.
Medlock and the Golden Panthers put together an impressive comeback drive, with a 30-yard touchdown pass from Medlock to Willis Wright with just a minute left in the game, putting the contest seemingly out of reach for the Blue Raiders.
However, MT showed their resilience.
Following an FIU excessive-celebration call, running back Reggie Whatley returned the kickoff 43 yards. On the ensuing play, Kilgore fired a bullet for 28 yards to wide receiver Christian Collis, his only reception of the game. Two plays later, Whatley shot through the FIU defense to give the Raiders a seemingly improbable 34-30 lead.
The lead would prove to hold up by a matter of inches.
With one second remaining, Medlock threw a brilliant pass to Wright, but was tackled short of the endzone at the MT one-yard line, ending the game.
Following this conference victory, MT will travel to Starkville, Miss., to take on the undefeated No. 15 Mississippi State Bulldogs at Davis Wade Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 20, which will be televised on ESPN2.