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November 14, 2009Louisiana-Lafayette had just gone 72 yards in nine plays to take a 17-14 lead at the end of the first half.
Middle Tennessee fans in Floyd Stadium were feeling uneasy as the Ragin' Cajuns ran into the locker room having wrested away momentum in the game.
But in the Blue Raider locker room, the deameanor was calm but determined, and a challenge from head coach Rick Stockstill to his team turned the tide of the game as MT rallied to a convincing 34-17 win.
"I challenged them at halftime to man up and really go out and prove who the tougher team was," Stockstill said. "We talked about it last night, to play with great passion and toughness and I thought we did that the whole game but especially the second half. I thought we were relentless on both sides of the ball ... To me, we dominated the lines of scrimmage both offensively and defensively."
MT did dominate in the second half, so much that a strong case could be made that it was the most complete 30 minutes of football the Blue Raiders have played this season.
The defense shutout the Cajuns in the second half, surrendered just 75 total yards, and continually pressured quarterback Chris Masson, who spent more time on his back against MT than he has all season.
"We'll have to go back and look at it," Stockstill said when asked if he thought it was the best half of the season. "We were close the first half both offensively and defensively, to doing some good things. We had some busts a couple of times on defense and some drops on offense ... but to me, we dominated them on both sides of the ball and in the kicking game in the second half. We dominated them. I don't know what the stats were but to me it was an impressive second half for our guys."
Offensively, MT's second half numbers were just as impressive as the defense's production.
MT scored 20 points in the final two quarters and racked up 281 total yards. Four of the first five Blue Raider possessions of the second half ended in points.
"I feel like that is the best 30 minutes we've played," quarterback Dwight Dasher said.
Dasher attempted just 11 passes in the first half and completed six of them. In the second half, he torched the Cajuns both on the ground and through the air.
His 46 yard run on the first play from scrimmage in the third quarter set up the very next play, a 19 yard pass from Dasher to Garrett Andrews that immediately put the Raiders back into the lead after having surrendered the last minute drive in the first half.
Kyles keeps producing
Sophomore running back D.D. Kyles has always had great speed and talent, but his struggles to grasp of the total offense had Stockstill concerned back in fall camp.
Kyles, having been forced into more action with the season ending injury to Phillip Tanner, has gone a long way toward removing any lingering doubts about what he can mean to the offensive attack.
Kyles topped 100 yards on the ground for the third straight game with his 20 carry, 177 yard effort against Louisiana-Lafayette.
Over the last three games, all MT wins, Kyles has rushed for 427 yards on 55 carries.
Stockstill certainly likes the production, but he also knows a lot of it has been generated by quality offensive line play.
He also thinks Kyles can still hit another gear by attacking holes quicker.
"I thought D.D. was OK," Stockstill said. "I know he ended up with 177 yards, but the big thing was our offensive line finished blocks. I thought D.D. was a little tentative maybe early and sometimes that happens, but he had some nice physical runs there in the fourth quarter to melt the clock and extend drives on some third down runs."
"I had to see (the holes) and hit it more," Kyles said of his first few runs in the game. "At first I wasn't hitting it as hard as I could have. When we were in the half, coach told me to hit it and run, so when I saw it I just reacted to it and took off and the receivers did a good job blocking downfield."
Kyles broke a long run of 53 yards early in the fourth quarter that led to an Alan Gendreau field goal to make the score 31-17.
He says running behind MT's offensive line right now is a lot of fun because of the way the big men are paving holes.
"(The linemen) are getting on their guys and staying on them, which is making it easy for me on my reads," Kyles said. "I just have to make one cut and get up the field because of what they are doing. We knew if we could get the running game open then the passing game would open up. We were going to keep at it until finally we popped one and it happened for us."
While Kyles has noticed a difference in the offensive line, Dasher says he has noticed a difference in Kyles.
"D.D. has grown up a little bit," Dasher said. "He has really worked hard in practice and it shows on the field that he has been working hard in practice."
Lattimore for six
Defensive end Jamari Lattimore made the play of the game on a 20 yard interception return for a touchdown in the second quarter, a play that put the Raiders into the lead for the first time.
With Louisiana-Lafayette leading 10-7, Lattimore hauled in a tipped ball and then made one man miss before sprinting the rest of the way into the endzone.
"Jamari is a great athlete," Stockstill said. "He is a really good and smart football player. He did a nice job and a great job on the return. He has good ball skills. The ball was tipped and he reacted to it and made the interception and then made a heck of a play with it."
The touchdown was the second defensive touchdown of the year for the Raiders.
Defensive end Chris McCoy scored the other one on a fumble return against Clemson in the season opener.