MIAMI — Middle Tennessee made FIU’s homecoming a bit disappointing Saturday in Miami.
The Blue Raiders (1-4, 1-2) scored a last-minute touchdown to shock the Panthers (0-2, 0-1) and go ahead 31-28, clinching their first win of the season.
“I told our team after the game how proud I was of them. This one had nothing to do with anything but toughness and our competitive spirit,” MT head coach Rick Stockstill said. “We didn’t start out all that hot … but we kept battling.
“I’m just really proud of our mental toughness.”
Things weren’t going well for the Raiders offensively in the fourth quarter, as they had only gained 6 yards on six plays until a punt gave them the ball back with 4:48 left.
Down 28-24 with time running out, redshirt junior quarterback Asher O’Hara and the MT offense finally found momentum.
O’Hara hit redshirt junior Yusuf Ali for 17 yards to start the drive, then connected for 13 yards to senior Jarrin Pierce to get the Blue Raiders to the FIU 39.
A pass interference and a couple of runs got Middle Tennessee down to the Panthers’ 12, where on first and 10 O’Hara hit Pierce with an over-the-shoulder throw in the end zone to snatch the late lead.
“We just had heart. That’s all it was,” O’Hara said. “I saw the safety roll to the other side of the field, so it was a really easy decision and throw for me. I just put my decision in Jarrin and of course knew he was going to come down with it. He’s a playmaker.”
All that was left to do after the touchdown was hold off FIU’s last attempt, and it was Miami native Gregory Grate Jr. who intercepted a pass to effectively end the game with 35 seconds left.
The Blue Raiders defense was special for most of the game. They forced eight punts, including three in the final quarter before the interception, and got in the backfield for five sacks and seven tackles for loss.
“We just tried not to panic,” Patterson said. “Put the ball down, go to the next down. Just don’t panic.
“We’ve been working really hard all season, and I just hope we can do this every game.”
Leading MT’s defense was two Florida natives. Redshirt sophomore Decorian Patterson had a career outing with nine tackles, a sack and a forced fumble, and Grate finished with eight tackles and the interception.
“It was so special … and when my team needed me, I just tried to give everything I had in me,” Grate said. “I saw that ball, and I knew I had to go get it.”
Offensively, O’Hara finished 23-for-42 passing for 268 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions and added 106 yards and two more scores on 23 rush attempts.
Pierce was his favorite target, catching five balls for 80 yards and the last-minute touchdown. Senior CJ Windham also had a touchdown, taking four receptions for 37 yards, and Ali had three catches for 58 yards.
While the Blue Raiders will savor the win, they’ll be quick to turn their focus to North Texas, who will travel to Murfreesboro next week for a 4 p.m. kickoff.
“You can’t get too high and you can’t get too low, and that’s what this team does,” Stockstill said. “I believe in this team … we just needed something good to happen.”