It was a mix of big plays and big mistakes for Middle Tennessee State, but in the end the Blue Raiders had enough of the plays to over come the mistakes in a 35-30 win over Arkansas State in the fourth annual Raycom Media Camellia Bowl in Montgomery Alabama Saturday night.
MSTSU Fends Off Arkansas State in Camellia Bowl
Quarterback Brent Stockstill was 19 of 35 passing for 232 yards and two touchdowns. It was enough to overcome his three interceptions and one fumble. The Blue Raiders, who had to use a different lineup for every game this season because of injuries, finished the season 7-6. Arkansas State, which had just missed out on a share of the Sun Belt title, finished 7-5.
No Lead Is Too Big
Throughout the night, MTSU would make a big play for a lead, even building up an 18-point margin at one point, but then needing to hold on to fend off the Red Wolves.
Case in point; with a 7-3 second quarter lead, MTSU’s Darius Harris stripped Arkansas State quarterback Justice Hansen of the ball near his own 40 yard line. D.J. Sanders picked it up and ran it back 54 yards for a touchdown and a 14-3 lead. But the Blue Raiders lead lasted less than four minutes. Hansen took the Red Wolves right back down field with an 85-yard, 13-play touchdown that ended with his own touchdown run from one yard out. Just as quickly as they were behind by double digits, Arkansas State was back to within 14-10 just before the half.
It turns out, leaving 1:59 on the clock was too much. As quickly as MTSU lead shrunk, they built it right back into double digits. Arkansas State committed back to back facemask penalties and Stockstill moved MTSU 50 yards in three plays, including a 31-yard touchdown pass to Ruben Garnett that put the Blue Raiders back by double digits, 21-10 just before the half.
Second Half, Same As The First
MTSU went up 28-10 on the first drive of the second half capped by a Tavares Thomas two-yard run. That still was not enough to shake off Arkansas State. Hansen utilized a several quick inside slants including a five-yard completion to Justin McGinnis that, with the run-after-catch, turned into a 20-yard touchdown pass. The 18-point MTSU lead was now down to 11 again at 28-17.
It would continue to shrink. On fourth and 14, Arkansas State ran a fake punt with Cody Grace completing a 21-yard pass to keep the drive alive. Warren Wand would complete it with a two-yard touchdown catch. The two-point conversion failed, but all of a sudden, we had ourselves a ball game again at 28-23 early in the fourth quarter.
Stockstill needed just over two minutes to go back down field and put the game away for good for the Blue Raiders. The six play, 75-yard drive ended with a 30 yard touchdown pass on a skinny post to Shane Tucker for the 35-23 lead, a lead that even more mistakes and penalties could not wash away. Arkansas State would score only once more with five minutes left, but MTSU was able to kill the last five minutes of the clock for the final margin of victory.
Arkansas State actually outgained Middle Tennessee 462-352 and ran 33 more plays (97-64), but could not climb out of the early double-digit deficit.
While Stockstill’s stats may not have lit up the scoreboard and his mistakes made the night harder for MTSU, the Blue Raiders went 5-2 with him under center, including four of their last five. They were only 2-4 while he was out with a shoulder injury. Even he acknowledged it was not his best night. “Not very often as a quarterback can you throw three picks and (have) your defense bail you out like that.” The head coach’s son will return next year along with every starter at a skill position.
For Arkansas State, defensive end Ja’Von Rolland-Jones did get one sack which would have given him the all-time FBS record of 44, but the play was negated by a defensive penalty. He finished his career with 43.5 sacks, just shy of Terrell Suggs’ record. Hansen and Wand will both be returning for the Red Wolves.