Defensive plays give Panthers crucial win
FIU kept its Conference USA East Division title hopes alive with a win over Charlotte in a game that turned on a key fumble and stop.
CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA —
A college football game with 77 points and more than 1,000 yards of total offense actually turned on a pair of defensive plays Saturday.
Florida International kept its Conference USA East Division title hopes alive, holding off Charlotte 42-35 on a sunny afternoon, and the Panthers had plenty of stellar offensive moments.
But late in the first quarter, with Charlotte up 7-3 and driving into FIU territory, the Panthers forced a fumble from 49ers running back Ishod Finger. Linebacker Sage Lewis scooped up the ball and raced — as quickly as a 240-pounder can race — 61 yards for a touchdown.
On Charlotte’s next series, the 49ers drove to the FIU 17, but the Panthers stopped conference rushing leader Benny Lemay on fourth down. On the next play, FIU quarterback James Morgan connected with Austin Maloney on a 54-yard pass.
The Panthers only got a field goal on the drive for a 13-7 lead. And Charlotte later took a 14-13 lead.
But the two defensive plays kept Florida International in the game early, and the Panthers eventually got their offense moving at full speed in the second half.
“I was proud of these guys,” said coach Butch Davis, whose birthday was Saturday. “They really fought
hard, although we were a lot more effective in the second half.”
FIU closes the regular season next Saturday at home against Marshall, and either a Panthers victory or a Middle Tennessee loss against West Division leader UAB will send the team into the conference championship Dec. 1.
More notes from the win over Charlotte:
Survive and advance: A
The Panthers beat a desperate foe Saturday. Charlotte needed a victory against FIU and again next Saturday at Florida Atlantic to become bowl-eligible for the first time in the program’s four FBS seasons. The Panthers took a two-touchdown lead (2714) early in the third quar- ter, and the teams then matched touchdowns the rest of the way.
Charlotte outgained FIU 534-490 in total yardage, but the Panthers did enough to win.
The offense is hum
A ming. Florida International’s 490 total yards against the 49ers were a season high. The Panthers rushed for 196 yards against the No. 4 rushing defense in the country. “In the second half, we got things going,” said running back Napoleon Maxwell, who scored the final FIU touchdown on a 52-yard run. “Our O-line dominated.”
Jones is back. AnthoA ny Jones had his best performance since returning two weeks ago. He was injured in a Sept. 6 driveby shooting in Opa-locka. He carried 11 times for 74 yards and caught two passes.
“I’m back,” he said after the game. “I’m ready to take this to the next level next week.”
Maxwell said, “Having Anthony back takes a lot of weight off our shoulders. We have a lot of talented backs, but Anthony does some things that nobody else can do.”
A Run defense still needs work: The Panthers surrendered 281 rushing yards, 165 of those to Lemay. That’s been a problem area for FIU, and next week’s foe, Marshall, is the fifth-best rushing team in Conference USA.
“They’ve got one of the best running backs in the conference,” Davis said of Lemay. In addition, he noted, Charlotte switched from former Miami quarterback Evan Shirreffs to Hasaan Klugh, much more of a running threat. “That really helped their running game,” Davis said.