De­fen­sive plays give Pan­thers cru­cial win

Miami Herald (Sunday) - - Sports - BY STEVE LYT­TLE Spe­cial to the Mi­ami Herald

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.

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