The 2009 season was one for the Blue Raider record books and one that will live in the memories of Blue Raider fans for decades to come. The season ended on a high note with a seventh straight victory by beating Southern Miss 42-32 in the New Orleans Bowl on Sunday night.
The 10 win season is the first in the FBS era, which provides a good jumping off point to showcase the 10 coolest things about this season (in no particular order).
DASHER'S SMASHING SEASON- Any lingering questions about Dwight Dasher's ability to lead a team were laid to rest this season. The junior quarterback had one of the most outstanding seasons in Blue Raider history. He became the first Blue Raider to pass for 2,000 yards and rush
for 1,000 yards in the same season and set single-season marks in total offense, touchdown passes, total plays, and rushing yards by a quarterback. He accounted for more than 70 percent of MT's total offense and 36 of the team's 47 offensive touchdowns. Over his final seven games, Dasher threw 15 touchdown passes and just six interceptions.
SCHOLARSHIPS NOT REQUIRED- MT's wide receiver unit got a big boost this year from a pair of walkons, sophomore Shane Blissard and freshman Harold Turner. The duo ranked fifth and sixth, respectively, on the team in receiving. Blissard and Turner combined for more than 500 receiving yards and six touchdowns. Turner's 15.9 yards per catch average was the highest of any player on the team with 10 or more receptions. MT also got outstanding special teams play from walkon Sherman Neal, who scored a touchdown against Florida Atlantic. In all, 10 walkons played for the Raiders this year.
DEFENSE BABY- Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz's unit was phenomenal in 2009. The Blue Raiders were disciplined yet nasty in setting a school record for sacks and leading the nation in tackles for loss. The defense finished the year ranked best in the Sun Belt.
SMOTHERING SECONDARY- What other unit in the country can boast a first team all-conference player that doesn't even start for the team? MT had that luxury in its secondary with cornerback Marcus Udell. Udell made seven interceptions in 2009 while backing up stalwarts Alex Suber and Rod Issac. The entire secondary was devastating. The defense intercepted 19 passes and allowed just 16 passing touchdowns. MT is one of only 26 teams this season to have more interceptions than touchdown passes allowed.
ANSWERING THE CALL- Head coach Rick Stockstill singled out linebacker Cam Robinson, defensive end Chris McCoy, and defensive tackle Brandon Perry way back in spring practice as three players that needed to step up their level of consistency. All three answered the challenge with staggering success. McCoy had one of the best defensive seasons in school history and was named co-defensive player of the year in the Sun Belt. Robinson led the team in tackles and was named 2nd team all-conference. Perry was very impressive in the middle of the line and received honorable mention all-conference recognition.
THE DRIVE- Standing 75 yards away from the endzone and trailing 31-29 with 1:30 remaining at Maryland, Dwight Dasher engineered the season's signature drive. Dasher completed four straight passes that covered 65 yards, ultimately setting up the game winning field goal by Alan Gendreau in a 32-31 Blue Raider victory. It was the second straight MT win over Maryland and the fifth win in school history against a team from a Big Six conference.
FILLING THE SHOES- When senior running back Phillip Tanner went down for the season in the second game of the year, it seemed like quarterback Dwight Dasher might have to shoulder the entire running game on his shoulders for the rest of 2009. Sophomore running back D.D. Kyles emerged to make sure that Dasher had plenty of help. Running behind an increasingly improving offensive line, Kyles ignited the Raider offense in the second half of the season. MT topped 200 rushing yards in four straight games against WKU, FIU, FAU, and ULL, with Kyles doing a lot of the damage. He finished the season with 857 yards and a 6.2 yards per carry average to lead the team.
REJECTED- Trying to punt or kick field goals against MT was a very dangerous practice this year. The Blue Raiders blocked eight kicks this season to better the previous best in the I-A era of five set in 2002. The Blue Raiders have blocked five field goals and three punts this season and the five blocked field goals are the most in the FBS era. Under Stockstill, the Raiders have now blocked 14 kicks (6 punts, 7 FGs, 1 PAT). The team now has 34 total blocks in the FBS era (14 FGs, 12 punts, 8 PATs).
BLACKOUT II- Fans poured into Floyd Stadium on September 12th to watch MT take on Memphis. Wearing black uniforms for the Blackout promotion, the Raiders hammered the Tigers 31-14 in front of a record crowd of 28,105. The game was the first win of the season and started a three game winning streak that ended up including the thrilling win over Maryland and a road smashing of North Texas.
THE ENDING- There couldn't have been a more perfect final chapter to the 2009 season. In many ways, the New Orleans Bowl win over Southern Miss was a microcosm of the season. MT faced adversity early with a 14-0 deficit, but stormed back with relentless precision to win the game going away. Reaching 10 wins is the most significant achievement of the current era of MT football. Doing so by beating a regionally recognized opponent like Southern Miss only makes it more meaningful.