NASSAU, Bahamas – Freshman quarterback Nicholas Vattiato completed 23 of 35 passes for 270 yards and two scores to lead Middle Tennessee past Toledo 31-24 in the seventh edition of the Bahamas Bowl at Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium.
Trailing 17-14 after three quarters, the Blue Raiders (7-6) scored 17 consecutive points in the fourth quarter to rally for a 31-17 lead.
Vattiato earned the Offensive Player of the Game award for the victors, while Middle Tennessee senior linebacker DQ Thomas won Defensive Player of the Game honors. Thomas finished the game with a team-high eight tackles (three solo), 1.5 tackles for loss and a pass breakup.
The victory evened the Blue Raiders’ Bahamas Bowl record at 1-1. Middle Tennessee lost in their first trip to Nassau in 2015 against Western Michigan.
“I’m really proud of our team,” Middle Tennessee head coach Rick Stockstill said. “The toughness, the guts, the competitiveness, the resilience, the mental toughness they showed today, was fun to watch. I told them at halftime that I believed in them, and I believed they were made of the right stuff. We had some opportunities that got away from us in the first half, and the score could have been a little bit different. I’m really proud of this team because that was a heck of a fight, and the defense, man, made stop after stop”
The Rockets (7-6) fell to 0-2 in their Bahamas Bowl history. The Rockets lost to FIU in the 2018 game.
Toledo was led by quarterback Dequan Finn, who completed 18 of 39 passes for 212 yards and two touchdowns and ran 12 times for 83 yards and a third score, and Bryant Koback, who ran 18 times for 126 yards.
Middle Tennessee got on the board first on a 6-yard TD pass from Vattiato to Yusuf Ali to make it 7-0 with 1:30 left in the first quarter. It was one of a game-high nine receptions for Ali in the game.
Toledo evened the score at 7-7 when Finn kept the ball for a 40-yard touchdown run on a fourth-and-1 play with 1:08 gone in the second quarter.
After a Blue Raider punt, Finn connected with Matt Landers on a Bahamas Bowl-record 90-yard touchdown pass to make it 14-7 with 11:11 left in the half. Landers finished with four receptions for a game-high 137 yards and a TD for the Rockets.
Middle Tennessee tied the game at 14-all with 8:58 to go in the half when Frank Peasant scored from a yard out.
A 32-yard field goal by Thomas Cluckey with 1:05 left in the half gave Toledo a 17-14 lead at intermission.
After a scoreless third quarter, backup quarterback Mike DiLiello scampered up the middle for a 17-yard touchdown run on the first play of the fourth quarter to give Middle Tennessee a 21-17 advantage.
Vattiato extended the Blue Raiders lead to 28-17 when he connected with Jarrin Pierce on a 59-yard touchdown strike with 6:24 left in the game. It was one of four receptions for 114 yards for Pierce.
An interception by defensive tackle Zaylin Wood set up a 35-yard field goal by Zeke Rankin to push the Blue Raiders lead to 31-17 with 4:34 left.
The Rockets marched 83 yards in 15 plays to pull within 31-24 on a 13-yard pass from Finn to DeMeer Blankumsee with 1:08 to go.
Ali recovered the ensuing onside kick, and Middle Tennessee was able to run out the clock.
“I’m just so happy for our seniors,” Stockstill said. “They’re going out as champions and winners. When you go to a bowl game, that’s the objective: stay on the field and hold that trophy up.”
Toledo held a slight 447-435 advantage in total offense over Middle Tennessee, but the Blue Raiders held the ball for 33:44.
Toledo led 235-159 in rushing yardage. It was the first time in Bahamas Bowl history that the team that rushed for more yards did not win the contest.
Peasant led Middle Tennessee in rushing with 64 yards on 15 carries with a touchdown.
Toledo linebacker Dyontae Johnson led the Rockets in tackles with 10 total (five solo).