DASHER LEADS MIDDLE TENNESSEE TO R+L CARRIERS NEW ORLEANS BOWL WIN
Blue Raider sets NCAA bowl record for rushing yards by a quarterback in 42-32 win over Southern Miss
NEW ORLEANS – In holiday lore, Rudolph has his own song and Prancer had a movie with his name on it. On Sunday night in the Louisiana Superdome, it was Dasher – Blue Raider junior quarterback Dwight Dasher – who was spreading the cheer to his teammates and fan base as Middle Tennessee State rallied from a 14-0 deficit to defeat Southern Miss, 42-32, in the 2009 R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl.
After twice having to leave the game after suffering what appeared to be painful knee injuries, Dasher came back both times and finished the day with a New Orleans Bowl record 201 rushing yards – the most by a quarterback in NCAA bowl history – and two touchdowns on 26 carries. In addition to his prowess on the ground, he also completed 15-of-25 passes for 162 yards and two more scores to earn Most Valuable Player honors by a unanimous vote.
Dasher’s rushing total surpassed the former mark of 200 set by Texas’ Vince Young against Southern Cal in Rose Bowl on Jan. 4, 2006. With the win, Middle Tennessee picked up its first-ever bowl as a NCAA FBS member to conclude the year at 10-3. Southern Miss, meanwhile, lost the New Orleans Bowl for the first time in four trips to fall to 7-6.
“I’ve never been part of a team that plays harder than we do,” Middle Tennessee State head coach Rick Stockstill said. “Other teams can’t match our intensity, enthusiasm and toughness and that was evident today. We fell behind 14-0 but we never quit. I thought this game was perfect example of a team playing hard with enthusiasm and toughness. We played harder and harder as we went on. We played smart. This was a great team effort.”
Southern Miss jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter as Tory Harrison ran for a two-yard touchdown 4:18 into the ballgame before Martavious Young connected with DeAndre Brown for a 24-yard scoring strike just over four minutes later.
After being held to just 50 yards in the first quarter, the Blue Raider offense found its rhythm following the opening stanza and cut the deficit in half when Dasher capped a 12-play, 70-yard drive with an 11-yard touchdown pass to Garrett Andrews. The Middle Tennessee squandered a chance to slice further into the Southern Miss lead when Alan Gendreau’s field goal was blocked, but the Blue Raider defense got the ball right back as Alex Suber picked off a Young pass at the Southern Miss 12 on the ensuing play.
Three plays later, Dasher connected with Shane Blissard from nine yards out to tie the ballgame at 14-all. Southern Miss, however, answered with a nine-play, 57-yard drive to take the lead at the half as Daniel Hrapmann kicked a 20-yard field goal as time expired.
The two teams traded possessions to open the second half, but Middle Tennessee took the lead for good when Dasher jaunted 35 yards on a quarterback keeper to put the Blue Raiders on top, 21-17. Southern Miss made it a one-point ballgame on the ensuing drive as Hrapmann nailed a 38-yard field goal.
Dasher was forced to the sideline for a second time in the final minutes of the third quarter, but the Blue Raider offense did not miss a beat as reserve signal caller Brent Burnette found Chris McColver for a 23-yard touchdown on the final play of the period to put Middle Tennessee on top, 28-20. The Golden Eagles had a chance to tie the game with 6:52 left in the game when Young found Brown for a seven-yard score but the two-point pass attempt fell short and Southern Miss continued to trail by a pair.
The Blue Raiders appeared to all but put the game away on a two-yard touchdown run by Benjamin Cunningham on the next drive to make it a nine-point affair at the 3:14 mark and Middle Tennessee turned an Danny Carmichael pick of a Young pass into a Dasher one-yard touchdown run to make it 42-26. Southern Miss answered with a five-play, 62-yard drive capped by a 33-yard Young-to-Freddie Parham pass, but the game had long since been decided.
Lost in the defeat was the career accomplishment of Southern Miss senior running back Damion Fletcher. Fletcher ran for 78 yards on 17 carries on the day to bring his season total to 1,015 and become just the ninth player in NCAA-FBS history to run for 1,000 yards all four seasons.
“All Golden Eagles are going to miss him and what he’s done for program the last four years,” Southern Miss head coach Larry Fedora said of Fletcher. “He’s one of nine players to rush for 1,000 yards four years in a row. That’s incredible because it doesn’t happen very often. We’re definitely going to miss him and each and every one of those seniors. I feel bad for the seniors since it was the last time for them putting on black and gold and they have to leave with that taste in their mouth.”
The day, however, belonged to Dasher and the Blue Raiders. Dasher’s rushing total broke Cody Hull of Southern Miss’ former New Orleans Bowl record of 161 on Dec. 20, 2005. His 363 yards of total offense is also a New Orleans Bowl record, surpassing the former mark of 240 set by Rice’s Joel Armstrong in the 2006 game.