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Vattiato’s 334 total yards, 3TDs help MTSU football outlast UTEP 34-30 on senior day

By MTN Sports Reporter: Dixson Riggins

The Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders football team wrapped up their 2023 home schedule with a 34-30 victory over UTEP. Today’s victory marks their fourth consecutive win against the Miners, having not lost since 2014.

MTSU Quarterback Nicholas Vattiato led the way on offense with 242 passing yards, 3 touchdowns and 92 yards on the ground.

“Nick has improved immensely this year.” Head coach Rick Stockstill said on his quarterback’s performance over the course of the season. “He’s gotten more confidence throwing the ball and he’s got more confidence running the ball.”

MTSU’s defense made the first big play of the game, when Marvae Myers recovered a fumble from UTEP quarterback Cade McConnell. The Blue Raiders cashed in the takeaway with a nine-yard score by running back Frank Peasant. The Miners answered right back with an 18-yard connection from McConnell to receiver Kelly Akharaiyi. The back-and-forth match continued with a long 62-yard touchdown strike from Vattiato to Holden Willis to take a 14-7 lead.

UTEP tied the game early in the second quarter, when running back Torrance Burgess Jr. took a punt 54 yards to the house. In response, Vattiato and Willis linked up again for a 17-yard score to take the lead. MTSU kicker Zeke Rankin booted a 38-yard field goal to extend the lead to ten. A late UTEP score cut the deficit to 24-21 going into the halftime break.

An early third quarter fumble helped UTEP tie the game at 24 with a Buzz Flabiano field goal. Another Rankin field goal and Vattiato TD pass extended the Blue Raider lead back to ten. The lead did not hold long, however, as on the ensuing drive Akharaiyi took a short screen pass 80 yards for a score to cut the lead to 34-30.

The Blue Raiders’ lead held for much of the fourth quarter, getting two key defensive stops in the final seven minutes to seal the victory. Myers once again forced a Cade McConnell turnover with an interception at the 6:57 mark of the fourth quarter. After a quick three-and-out, the Miners drove 45 yards down to MTSU’s 35-yard line looking to take the lead. However, the Blue Raiders held strong, getting a stop on fourth down with 37 seconds remaining.

“I’m really proud of the toughness that we played with, both mentally and physically.” Stockstill said of his team’s performance in the back-and-forth affair. “There were a lot of highs and lows throughout the game, which there always are, but I thought our guys did a really nice job of never giving up.”

UTEP’s McConnell passed for a season-high 364 yards in the loss. Kelly Akharaiyi hauled in 6 passes for 138 yards and two scores, posting his fifth 100-yard game of the year. The loss puts

the Miners at 3-8 (2-5 C-USA) on the season, and they will conclude their season next week against undefeated Liberty.

The win gives the Blue Raiders their fourth win of the year (4-7, 3-4 C-USA). MTSU will wrap up their 2023 campaign next Saturday with a trip to Huntsville, TX where they will take on first-year Conference-USA opponent Sam Houston. The game will kick off at 11:00 a.m. on ESPN+.


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