Home Sweet Home? Late Blue Raider rally falls short in home-opener
Despite a fourth-quarter rally and a strong performance from junior quarterback Logan Kilgore, MT football fell short to McNeese State, 27-21, in the Blue Raiders’ season opener at Floyd Stadium on Thursday, Aug. 30.
Trouble stopping the run and a failure to capitalize on early opportunities cost MT (0-1) in the team’s first loss to a Football Championship Subdivision opponent since joining the Sun Belt in 2001.
“Obviously very, very disappointed,” Head Coach Rick Stockstill said of the loss.
Beginning with an electrifying start, MT kick-returner Kenneth Glistrap ran back the opening kickoff for a 57-yard return. This was the start of a record-setting night for the home team, as Gilstrap and his fellow returners set a school record with 241 yards, breaking the former school record of 220 set versus Louisville in 2006.
However, the Blue Raiders were unable to punch the ball in after a long drive and were forced to settle for a 20-yard field goal from kicker Carlos Lopez.
As the game continued, settling would prove to be the theme of the night for the Blue Raiders. Early in the second quarter MT posted another impressive drive, which again ended by settling for a short field goal- this time a 28-yarder.
“We get inside the five, the six-yard line and we have to settle for field goals two times,” Stockstill said. “We talk about finishing plays, serious drives and we just didn’t do it. We kick field goals when we could have, should have scored touchdowns.”
Seven seconds into the second quarter, the Blue Raiders led McNeese State 6-0. That would be their last lead of the game. MT did not score again until there was only 6:58 left in the fourth quarter, when Kilgore capped off a 97-yard scoring drive with a six-yard touchdown pass to Anthony Amos. It was the third-longest scoring drive since Stockstill took over as head coach in 2006, but by then it was too late.
Despite their efforts and another Kilgore touchdown pass followed by a two-point conversion, the Blue Raiders fell to the Cowboys.
Kilgore finished the day with 240 yards on 27 completions, as well as a pair of touchdown passes. Amos was the game’s leading receiver with 70 yards on eight receptions and his six-yard score.
MT runners struggled to find space in between the tackles in the loss, totaling only 103 rushing yards compared to its opponents’ 298 yards on the ground. Jordan Parker took over after fellow runningback Benny Cunningham went down with an apparent shoulder injury.
Cunningham is scheduled to have an MRI on Friday, Aug. 31.
Despite the home team’s early offensive woes and the injury to Cunningham, the story of the game was MT’s inability to create pressure and contain the run as well as not finishing tackles.
This was demonstrated by two safeties combining for 22 tackles, a bad sign for a defense that is consistently allowing opposing runners to get deep into the Blue Raider secondary.
“The biggest part tonight was tackling,” co-defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix said. “We didn’t tackle well, we missed several tackles and we made the backs look like they are all Doak Walker candidates.”
Although the Blue Raiders fell in their season opener, it has not changed their outlook or goals for the season: win the Sun Belt.
“Our goal is still intact, we want to win the conference,” Coach Stockstill said. “That’s our goal and we will have to get a heck of a lot better here in the next seven to nine days.”
MT played in front of a crowd of 18,690 on Thursday, the lowest attendance for a home opener since 2004.
The Blue Raiders will have nine days to prepare for their next game. They open their conference schedule next Saturday, Sept. 8, against the Florida Atlantic Owls at Floyd Stadium at 6:00 p.m.