For the first time in over 20 years the Tennessee State Tigers faced off against Middle Tennessee, to renew a rivalry that used to be a yearly meeting in the Ohio Valley Conference.
First Half Offensive Woes and Defensive Triumphs
Lackluster drives resulting in punts filled the first half for both teams. 3 out of the 6 Tennessee State(TSU) drives resulted in a punt, while Middle Tennessee punted twice on 6 attempts as well. The biggest difference maker was turnovers. TSU’s first possession ended in an interception in the end zone by Reed Blankenship on a fake field goal. Nothing came of the first interception though, as Middle Tennessee punted after 4 plays and only 19 yards. after regaining momentum on the defensive stop, TSU drove down the field to put the first points of the game on the board.
The second turnover of the half came at the hands of Ty Lee when he dropped the ball after a reception, that would have been a first down in scoring territory for the Blue Raiders. Yet again, the turnover does nothing to the pace of the game and we are left watching three straight drives by both teams ending in punts.
The monotony of the game was broken up by a field goal to put Middle Tennessee on the board. This must have sparked some sort of fire inside of MT since the third and final turnover of the half came on another Reed Blankenship end zone interception. This propelled Middle Tennessee to drive down the field and score a touchdown and give us the final points of the half.
Offenses Come Alive
The second half started with a bang as the first three drives ended in touchdowns putting the score at 24-13, MT leads with 3:48 to go in the third quarter. The next two drives potentially could have changed the game. A three-and-out by Middle Tennessee’s defense gives loads of confidence to the whole team just for momentum to be completely flipped by a freak interception by Asher O’Hara.
The drive started on the 15 yard line, but because of penalties it was backed up to the 8. The next play O’Hara drops back and is sacked for a loss of seven for 2nd and long at the MT 1 yard line. The play called for a 10 yard dig route, but due to a hidden referee, the intended receiver was lead straight towards the umpire positioned behind the defensive line, thus causing him to be flipped and the ball was tipped in the air and was caught by a defender at the MT 17 yard line. A 15 yard return would let the Tigers be two yards away from scoring, which took them all of one play to do so. A failed 2-point conversion makes the score 24-19, MTSU. Tennessee State is now back within striking difference with one quarter to play.
Middle Tennessee doesn’t let that interception get to them though and drives down the field to score a touchdown. TSU still sees an opportunity to win and responds with seven points of their own. However this would be the last time they tack on more points. Middle Tennessee however doesn’t want to leave the game up to chance and scores on their final two drives with a defensive stop splitting them to seal the game and give Middle Tennessee the 45-26 win.
Milestones for Multiple Blue Raiders
Outside of the home opening win for MTSU, a few individuals surpassed some impressive points in their collegiate careers. Asher O’Hara became the first player in school history to pass for 300 yards and rush for 100 yards in the same game. He ended the night 22/30 for 367 yards and 4 TDs, as wellas the one interception. He also had 103 total rushing yards on the night.
Another star for Middle Tennessee was Ty Lee. He had 64 yards on 5 receptions and a touchdown. This ties him for second in the all-time school receiving TD list with 22. The next receiving touchdown for him will tie him with Richie James for first all time. He is also one game away from being tied with the school record of consecutive games with a catch and is third in the school’s all time receiving yards list(via @MT_FB on Twitter).
The One-Off Rivalry
This was an excellent look back in time to what used to be. With Middle Tennessee having already planned the majority of their out-of-conference games for the next four to five years, the likelihood of this match-up being played again soon is very slim. But nonetheless, it was nice seeing older alumni excited over this game. So what once was, is now no more. Here’s to the days that were and the next time that this rivalry can be renewed.