Tech gets all the pieces in place, overwhelms Blue Raiders

RETURN TO GLORY:  Parker McNeil returned as Louisiana Tech’s starting quarterback after missing last week with an injury, and fired three first-half touchdown passes in the Bulldogs’ win Saturday. (Photo by JOSH MCDANIEL, Louisiana Tech Athletics)

By MALCOLM BUTLER, Lincoln Parish Journal

RUSTON — Louisiana Tech’s win over Middle Tennessee Saturday at Joe Aillet Stadium was downright defensive.

The Bulldogs’ defense forced four second-half turnovers and held the high-powered Blue Raiders offense to just three points after halftime in a 40-24 victory.

It snapped a string of 12 straight games against FBS opponents where Tech had allowed 30 or more points.

Leading 27-21 at halftime, Tech’s defense recorded three interceptions and a fumble recovery on the first four possessions of the third quarter, including a pick six by Willie Roberts.

Tech head coach Sonny Cumbie gave credit to defensive coordinator Scott Powers and the entire unit.

“They spent their time making the adjustments at halftime, and I think it was well worth the time,” said Cumbie. “Our defense did a phenomenal job in the second half. It was a complete domination by our defense in that third quarter, and the fourth quarter too really. If we had made the most of those (turnovers) offensively, then it’s not even a close contest at the end.”

Tech (3-6, 2-3 C-USA) allowed just 136 yards of total offense on eight separate Middle Tennessee possessions in the second half as the Blue Raiders crossed midfield just once until the final drive. The five turnovers forced were the most by the Bulldogs since a win over SMU in 2017.

“It was really sweet for our players to finish out a game and play all four sides,” said Cumbie. “You could make an argument we deserved to win the last three weeks. We weren’t able to do that but today we found a way. I think that’s a big step forward for our team and I am really proud of our players and our coaching staff. Winning is hard.”

After the Blue Raiders (4-5, 1-4) took a 7-0 lead on a 69-yard TD run in the first quarter, the Bulldogs responded as Parker McNeil tossed TD passes of 41 yards to Cyrus Allen and 10 yards to Tre Harris. McNeil connected with Harris on a 27-yard scoring strike with 1:02 to play in the second quarter that gave Tech a 27-14 lead.

Harris caught seven passes for 157 yards and two scores while Allen added four receptions for 109 yards and one score. McNeil was only 14-of-33 but passed for 285 yards and three scores in the victory.

Marquis Crosby led the Tech ground attack with 123 yards on 24 carries.

Jacob Barnes hit 4-of-5 field goals in the game, including a pair in both the second and third quarters while the Bulldogs’ special teams unit also blocked a punt (the first since 2018) and recovered a fumble on a kickoff.

“What a difference a week makes from an execution standpoint when it comes to special teams,” said Cumbie. “Our special teams impacted the game in such a positive way. I am really proud of our special teams today.”

In addition to Roberts’ pick six, Myles Brooks snatched two interceptions while Kershawn Fischer and J’Dan Burnett each recovered fumbles. Tech also recorded a season-high four sacks.

“I’m just happy for our team,” said Cumbie. “I want them to enjoy the win and realize how powerful they can be when collectively we play complimentary football.”

Tech travels to UTSA next Saturday for a 2:30 p.m. kickoff at the Alamodome.