MTSU true freshman linebacker and former Miller County star T.T. Barber, left, dives to make the tackle on Georgia Tech’s Tony Zenon — another Southwest Georgia product who starred at Deerfield and won The Herald’s 2010 Player of the Year honor.
ATLANTA — Middle Tennessee State running back Benny Cunningham ran unfettered Saturday afternoon to the southeast corner of Bobby Dodd Stadium — much as he’d just run largely uninterrupted for 217 yards and five touchdowns — to celebrate with Middle Tennessee fans after a 49-28 win at Georgia Tech.
He and the Blue Raiders did not consider that an upset.
Middle Tennessee (3-1, 1-0 Sun Belt) moved to 3-9 against ACC teams, and Georgia Tech (2-3, 1-2 ACC) lost for the first time in seven games against Sun Belt schools.
This was also the Yellow Jackets’ first home loss to a non-BCS school since Navy won in Atlanta in 1996.
Yet after Cunningham scored on runs of 60, 1, 23, 4 and 3 yards and the Blue Raiders trailed only once, the visitors sounded as if they owned the place.
Truth be told, they did.
“I don’t feel like no one on the team, none of the coaches . . . I don’t feel any of us were surprised about what happened,” Cunningham said.
For the second straight week, Georgia Tech’s defense looked lost while Middle Tennessee racked up 510 yards of total offense and had two touchdowns called back by penalties. It also didn’t help Tech’s cause that the Blue Raiders’ defense — led by former Miller County star T.T. Barber with 11 tackles and a forced fumble — bottled Tech’s triple option attack nearly all day. But Barber wasn’t the only former Southwest Georgia star in the game. Former Deerfield star Tony Zenon rushed for 29 yards on five carries for Georgia Tech, and former Seminole County star Chris Brown traveled with the Blue Raiders, but he is being redshirted this year.
Georgia Tech senior quarterback Tevin Washington tied a school record with four rushing touchdowns, but again the Yellow Jackets struggled horribly on defense.
Also for the second week in a row, a fan fell over a railing in Bobby Dodd Stadium. School officials said Saturday that the unidentified student was responsive and alert after falling approximately 15 feet. He was transported to Atlanta’s Grady Hospital.
A week earlier, Georgia Tech surrendered 609 yards of total offense, including 436 passing, as Miami came from behind in Bobby Dodd Stadium for a 42-36 overtime win.
Saturday, Georgia Tech defensive coordinator Al Groh moved from to the coaches’ box from the sideline at the urging of Yellow Jacket head coach Paul Johnson. That didn’t matter.
Middle Tennessee quarterback Logan Kilgore completed 17-of-23 passes for 246 yards and two touchdowns. The Blue Raiders carried play almost from the start after Georgia Tech linebacker Jabari Hunt-Days intercepted Kilgore’s third pass. Washington scored his first touchdown five plays later to give the Yellow Jackets a 7-0 lead.
Kilgore completed his next six passes, however, on Middle Tennessee’s ensuing possession and the Blue Raiders tied the game when wide receiver Anthony Amos made a leaping, one-handed reception for a 4-yard touchdown.
Middle Tennessee twice led by a touchdown in the first half, although Washington each time scored to even matters.
Cunningham’s third touchdown and a 75-yard pass from Kilgore to wide receiver Marcus Henry — who took advantage of a mismatch against stand-in linebacker Malcolm Munroe — gave the Blue Raiders a 35-21 lead in the third quarter.
Moving Groh upstairs didn’t help. “I don’t think we had as much confusion getting the calls in,” Johnson said. “But the results weren’t any better.”
Washington added his fourth TD run in the fourth quarter, but an interception by Middle Tennessee cornerback Kenneth Gilstrap — who grew up in Lithonia, outside of Atlanta — preceded Cunningham’s 4-yard scoring run. He later added a 3-yard TD.
“We were prepared to tackle because we practiced it so much, but guys were just missing tackles,” said Tech linebacker Quayshawn Nealy. “I don’t know what to say about that.”
Georgia Tech beat Middle Tennessee 42-14 and 49-21 in the past two years. Saturday, the Blue Raiders felt like they evened the score.
“They kicked our butts the last two years,” said Kilgore, the Middle Tennessee quarterback. “We didn’t come down here to sneak out a victory. We dominated them.”
Johnson said, “We got embarrassed, and we didn’t play with a whole lot of energy,” but Tech players disagreed with the suggestion that the Yellow Jackets suffered a, “hangover,” after the Miami loss. They did not dispute that one team played much better Saturday.
“I think we just didn’t come out ready to play today,” said Washington, who was credited with 19 carries for just 4 yards including sacks and other lost yardage plays. “They came out with an edge. I think we could have done a better job getting ready for this game.”
Blue Raiders head coach Kevin Stockstill, whose team punted twice, missed a field goal and closed the first half on downs, didn’t seem surprised that his team out-rushed Georgia Tech — the nation’s No. 3-ranked rushing team (352.3 yards per game) — 264 yards to 238.
“Offensively, I think we just imposed our will on them, and that’s no disrespect to Georgia Tech,” he said. “I thought Benny ran extremely hard. I think this win means more because of . . . the type of seasons (the Yellow Jackets) have had coming into this year. Maryland was coming off a down year when we beat them.”