Middle Tennessee fell behind early and could never recover against rival WKU during a 58-28 setback here at Houchens-Smith Stadium Saturday afternoon.
The loss ended the Blue Raiders' four-game win streak against their C-USA rival and provided the Hilltoppers (5-1, 3-0) with their first win against Middle Tennessee at home since 1989. The four previous contests between the teams were decided by a combined 12 points and two games required overtime.
The 2015 installment was decided by intermission as WKU bolted to a 52-14 halftime advantage against the Blue Raiders (2-4, 1-1).
There were positives, such as Middle Tennessee's play in the second half when it kept WKU out of the end zone and held the 'Toppers to six points. Quarterback Brent Stockstill broke the school's freshman passing record. Stockstill was 28-of-43 for 296 yards and three touchdown passes. With the 296 yards against WKU, Stockstill now has 1,803 total passing yards on the season which breaks the previous mark of 1,763 yards set by Kelly Holcomb in 1991.
The receiving duo of Ed Batties and Richie James had another stellar day. James finished with seven catches for 141 yards and two touchdowns, while Batties totaled nine receptions for 44 yards and a score. Trey Pettis added five catches for 62 yards.
Senior tailback Jeremiah Bryson led the ground attack with 76 yards on 14 carries, including a touchdown. Bryson finished with 203 all-purpose yards as he added 124 kickoff return yards.
Quay Watt led the defense with 10 tackles, nine solo, and Kevin Byard added seven total tackles, five solo.
Already facing a substantial deficit, Middle Tennessee started the second half strong when Stockstill and James connected for a 34-yard touchdown to close the Blue Raiders to within 52-21. The drive capped a 10-play, 75-yard drive that covered four minutes. James' sixth catch of the game resulted in his second touchdown catch and put him over 100 yards receiving for the second time in the last three games.
After WKU added a third-quarter field goal, Middle Tennessee went to the air to add its second score of the second half. Stockstill connected with Baties for an 8-yard scoring strike to pull the Blue Raiders to within 55-28 with 14:51 remaining in the game. It was Stockstill's third passing touchdown of the game, and provided Batties with his first scoring reception of the contest.
WKU added a late field goal to account for the final score but the game was virtually decided in the first half when the Hilltoppers got out of the gate strong with three first-quarter scores. It was the most points scored against Middle Tennessee in the opening quarter. The most first-half points the Blue Raiders had allowed were 23 (against No. 2 Alabama) until WKU put up 52 in the opening half Saturday.
After WKU jumped out to a 21-0 first-quarter run, Middle Tennessee finally go on the board when Jeremiah Bryson busted through the middle of the line of scrimmage and powered his way to a 28-yard touchdown. Bryson's run capped a nine-play, 82-yard drive to close the gap to 21-7 following Cody Clark's point after. Stockstill was 4-for-4 for 45 yards on the drive with James catching three passes for 44 yards.
The scoring drive was set up by a defensive gem when Jamarcus Howard registered his first interception of the season. Howard's pick was the first thrown by Doughty at home since September 2013.
WKU was on top 35-7 and looking for more when Middle Tennessee came up with another turnover to curtail a potential scoring drive. Alex Dale forced a fumble that was recovered by T.T. Barber at the Blue Raider 26.
Ten plays later, Stockstill connected with James for a 30-yard touchdown pass. The drive covered 72 yards and pulled the Blue Raiders to within 35-14 with 3:36 remaining in the first half. Stockstill was 5-for-6 on the drive for 56 yards.
WKU wasn't finished in the first half. The Hilltoppers added two more scores before the intermission to go on top 52-14.
The Blue Raiders return home for their Hall of Fame game against FIU Saturday. Kickoff is set for 11 a.m.
MIDDLE TENNESSEE POSTGAME NOTES:
CAPTAINS: Today's game captains were OL Darius Johnson, S Quay Watt, and PK Cody Clark.
STOCKSTILL BREAKS ROOKIE MARK: With 296 passing yards today against WKU, quarterback Brent Stockstill set a new freshman passing mark for the Blue Raiders. Stockstill now has 1,803 total passing yards on the season which breaks the previous mark of 1,763 yards set by Kelly Holcomb in 1991.
BATTIES SETS SEASON-BEST: Middle Tennessee WR Ed Batties led the Blue Raiders last season in his first year with 45 receptions. With nine catches against WKU in game six, Batties ran his season total to 46 to set a new personal-best. He is closing on reaching the single-season top 10 list as No. 10 on the list with 54 catches in 1998 is Sulecio Sanford.
SECOND FOR JAMES: For the second time this season, freshman Richie James has topped the 100-yard receiving plateau. James hauled in seven passes for 141 yards at WKU after registering 141 yards at Illinois. He had 95 yards receiving in two other contests (95 at No. 2 Alabama, 95 vs. Vanderbilt).
DANGEROUS DUO: Senior receiver Ed Batties and r-freshman receiver Richie James entered the WKU game as the nation's leading pass-catching duo. They combined for another double-digit day against the Hilltoppers. James led the way with seven catches for 141 yards. Batties totaled nine catches for 44 yards. For the season they have combined for 98 catches, 1,160 yards and 12 touchdowns.
RARE OCCURRENCE: Middle Tennessee's defense had allowed 24 points all season in the first quarter entering the WKU game, but the unit allowed 28 points in the game's first frame Saturday as the Blue Raiders fell behind 28-7 after the first 15 minutes.
RARE OCCURRENCE II: Middle Tennessee's first scoring drive was set up by Jamarcus Howard's interception in the first quarter. Howard's first career interception was also the first by WKU QB Brandon Doughty at home since September, 2013.
QUICK HITTERS: Jeremiah Bryson's 28-yard TD run was the 12th of his career and third of the season ... Kevin Byard and James Roberson played in their team leading 42nd career game today ... LB T.T. Barber made his team-high 34th straight start today ... The most first-half points allowed by Middle Tennessee coming into today's game at WKU was 23 (at No. 2 Alabama). The Blue Raiders allowed 52 in the first half against the Hilltoppers ... Austin Grammer made his first career reception late in the first half against WKU ... DT Pat McNeil recorded his first career sack late in the first half