NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Five turnovers forced, 17 points off of those mistakes, and a critical 31-17 win over Tennessee State on Saturday afternoon at William J. Hale Stadium ... just the way fifth-year coach Mitch Stewart and his Murray State Racers (4-3, 2-1 Ohio Valley Conference) drew it up.
The Tigers (1-6, 0-3) were driving late in the fourth quarter, too, down just 24-17 and past midfield, when running back Te'kendrick Roberson was stripped (and the ball recovered) by Racer linebacker Kendrick Catis, his second fumble recovery of the day.
Two plays later, Nashville native Jared McCray rumbled for a 58-yard touchdown and a 30-17 MSU advantage, sending the Racer sideline into a frenzy.
TSU's final drive: seven plays, 57 yards … and quarterback Cameron Rosendahl's third interception, this one into the hands of MSU defensive back Marcis Floyd at the back-right pylon of the end zone.
"We made plays when the opportunity arose," Stewart said. "Whether it was creating a turnover, making a tackle when we needed to, the play to seal the game down in the end zone, a big catch down in the end zone, a fourth-down conversion, whatever the case may be. We just seemed to make plays when the opportunity came, and that's probably what I'm most proud of."
TSU still rang up near its season average in yardage (450), piling on 312 yards passing and 108 yards rushing on the day.
But the five turnovers certainly weren't part of the Tigers' game plans.
"We really didn't change anything," noted MSU linebacker Alec Long, who opened the game with a sack of Rosendahl. "We just changed our mindset. Getting points put up, we really don't like that. So we just tried to come out here and have that don't-get-scored-on mindset. And I just told the guys that we had to set the tone for the whole game early, and that's what we came out here and did. Kept getting stop after stop, and produced for our offense."
MSU's defense didn't stop guys like Rowland and Steven Newbold (seven catches, 87 yards), per se, but did limit TSU's running game to 32 carries and just 108 yards -- a mere 3.4 yards per tote.
Rice, Brooks remarkable
MSU quarterback Preston Rice went 24-for-44 with 271 yards passing, three touchdowns and just one interception -- along with 16 rushes, 63 yards rushing while taking just one sack.
He also completed passes to 11 different receivers, no one the bigger benefactor than LaMartez Brooks, who finished with 76 yards and one touchdown on four catches.
Rice's lone turnover came late in the second quarter, with the Racers leading 14-10 and preparing to score again. He threw into double coverage and was picked off by TSU safety Josh Green (11 tackles).
MSU's TJ Warren would strip the nation's leading receiver, Chris Rowland (14 catches, 146 yards), after an 11-yard gain, which was recovered by Catis.
Six plays later, Rice would hit Brooks -- who outjumped his double coverage -- for a 37-yard score and 20-10 lead just before halftime.
"It has to start with the offensive line doing a great job holding up for Preston," Brooks said. "Me and Preston just have a connection. He trusts me, and if he throws it up, I'll catch it."
"Rice and 'Tez, they work that a bunch during practice," Stewart added. "Rice and Armani Hayes, too. All those guys. If you work it, you've got to call it. There's no sense working it Sunday through Friday, and then getting to Saturday and scared to call it. I think that was just Rice having a lot of belief in 'Tez, and 'Tez has a lot of belief in Rice. And both of them believe in the offensive line. So in that situation, they said, 'Hey, let's go try it.'"
Two weeks ago, Murray State couldn't manage 20 yards total rushing against UT Martin.
Saturday, albeit against the statistically worst rushing defense in the league, the Racers ran the ball effectively -- gaining 232 yards on 39 attempts.
It's the second straight week MSU found some success between the tackles. The surprise of the afternoon wasn't McCray, Rice or Rodney Castille (three carries, 18 yards), but redshirt freshman Cory Thomas, who easily surpassed his career high with 10 carries and 74 yards (and just three yards lost).
"That was big for him; he had a big game," Stewart said of McCray. "But I'll tell you, the other one for us was 'CT.' Cory Thomas. He had some big runs for us. I think that kind of lit the fire, too, for ol' McCray and some of those guys by seeing CT get some runs out there. Awfully proud of all those guys."
Just 1-for-5 on field goals coming into the game, Clarksville, Tennessee, native and true freshman Zaden Webber went a perfect 4-for-4 on PATs, and drilled a critical 41-yarder at the start of the fourth quarter to give MSU a 24-10 advantage.
Webber is currently the starting kicker, with senior and preseason All-OVC'er Gabe Vicente likely out for the year with a foot injury.
"Big day of confidence for that kid," Stewart said.
Murray State 7 14 0 10 - 31
Tennessee State 7 3 0 7 - 17
TSU: Te'kendrick Roberson 5 run (Antonio Zita kick), 7-0, 4:33 1Q
MSU: James Sappington 11 pass from Preston Rice (Zaden Webber kick), 7-7, 1:48 1Q
MSU: Brion Sanchious 5 pass from Rice (Webber kick), 14-7, 11:19 1Q
TSU: FG Zita 39, 14-10, 2:52 2Q
MSU: LaMartez Brooks 37 pass from Rice (Webber kick), 21-10, 0:16 2Q
MSU: FG Webber 41, 24-10, 14:55 4Q
TSU: Roberson 3 run (Zita kick), 24-17, 12:57 4Q
MSU: Jared McCray 58 run (Webber kick), 31-17, 2:27 4Q
First downs 31 24
Rushes-yards 39-232 32-108
Passing 271 312
Comp-Att-Int 24-44-1 26-43-3
Return Yards 0-0 2-55
Punts-Avg. 5-36.8 3-41.0
Fumbles-Lost 1-0 3-2
Penalty-Yards 10-105 5-50
Time of Possession 29:38 30:22
RUSHING: MSU Cory Thomas 10-74, Jared McCray 7-74, Preston Rice 16-63, Rodney Castille 3-18, DeQuan Dallas 1-4. TSU Te'kendrick Roberson 18-76, Seth Rowland 8-39, Chris Rowland 1-5, Steven Newbold 1-3.
PASSING: MSU Preston Rice 24-44-1-271, TSU Cameron Rosendahl 26-43-2-312.
RECEIVING: MSU LaMartez Brooks 4-76-1, Ty Terrell 4-27, Armani Hayes 3-34, DeQuan Dallas 3-32, Jacob Bell 2-39, James Sappington 2-22-1, Jared McCray 1-10, Jake Saathoff 1-10, Tyre Gray 1-5, Cory Thomas 1-5, Brion Sanchious 1-5-1. TSU Chris Rowland 14-146, Steven Newbold 7-87, Phillip Brown 1-23, Al-Malik Moore 1-23, Malik Abdul-Haaq 1-19, Seth Rowland 1-14, Te'kendrick Roberson 1-0.