FIU lets a big op­por­tu­nity slip away at home

Miami Herald (Sunday) - - College Football - BY WAL­TER VILLA Spe­cial to the Mi­ami Herald

The Pan­thers couldn’t over­come spe­cial teams is­sues and in­ter­cep­tions and missed a chance to play in the Con­fer­ence USA Cham­pi­onship Game.

It was the big­gest home game in FIU foot­ball his­tory, but it was far from the best the Pan­thers have played.

The Pan­thers, who have not had a punt blocked all sea­son, were vic­tim­ized in that fash­ion for a touch­down.

FIU quar­ter­back James Mor­gan, who has set a school record this sea­son with 26 touch­down passes and had just five in­ter­cep­tions in his first 11 games, threw a pick six and an­other drivekilling toss.

Jose Bor­re­gales, a kicker who will be in the NFL one day ac­cord­ing to FIU coach Butch Davis, missed a 28-yard field-goal at­tempt and had a 43-yarder blocked.

In essence, many of the things FIU had done so well all sea­son to put it­self one way from play­ing in the Con­fer­ence USA cham­pi­onship game for the first time fell apart on Satur­day in a 28-25 loss to visit­ing Mar­shall.

FIU (8-4, 6-2) lost the East Divi­sion ti­tle to Mid­dle Ten­nessee, a team it beat ear­lier this sea­son.

“It hurts be­cause we knew we had the game in our grasp,” FIU cor­ner­back Em­manuel Lu­bin said. “We just didn’t cap­i­tal­ize on cer­tain plays.”

FIU will play in a bowl game, and the de­tails of that will be an­nounced on De­cem­ber 2. But no mat­ter who the Pan­thers draw, they will get a chance to set a school record with a win, which would be their ninth of the sea­son.

No FIU team has won more than eight, and Davis has eight in each of his first two years at the school.

But, on Se­nior Day, it wasn’t much con­so­la­tion for the Pan­thers.

“This was a tough one,” Davis said. “The good news for the se­niors is that this isn’t the end of the sea­son. We still have an op­por­tu­nity to get that ninth vic­tory and send the se­niors out with a vic­tory.”

Mor­gan com­pleted 21 of 33 passes for 177 yards, but he suf­fered those two in­ter­cep­tions. The first one was re­turned 25 yards to give Mar­shall a 14-0 lead in the first quar­ter.

FIU bat­tled to cut its deficit to 14-10 at half­time, get­ting a 22yard Bor­re­gales field goal and a 1-yard TD run by An­thony Jones.

The only score in the third quar­ter was the punt block in the end zone, but FIU was re­silient.

Af­ter Mor­gan was tem­po­rar­ily knocked out of the game due to a shot on his arm, backup quar­ter­back Chris­tian Alexan­der ran 8 yards for a touch­down.

Davis reached deep into his play­book and picked up a two­point con­ver­sion on a hand­off to for­mer quar­ter­back Mau­rice Alexan­der and a pass back to Chris­tian Alexan­der (no re­la­tion).

But Mar­shall wide re­ceiver Tyre Brady – a for­mer star at South Dade High and an exMi­ami Hur­ri­canes player – caught his sec­ond touch­down of the game, this one a 3-yarder with 8;42 left in the fourth quar­ter.

That gave Mar­shall a 28-18 lead that proved in­sur­mount­able.

FIU run­ning back Napoleon Maxwell scored on a 1-yard run with 4:47 left, but Mar­shall crushed Pan­thers dreams by run­ning out the clock on an ef­fi­cient fi­nal drive.

Maxwell, who led FIU with 96 yards rush­ing and av­er­aged 10.7 per carry, said he was proud of the way Mor­gan came back from in­jury.

“James is a fighter,” Maxwell said.

Chris­tian Alexan­der also did well while he was in there, com­plet­ing 4 of 5 passes for 24 yards.

Davis, mean­while, ad­dressed some of the is­sues in the game.

On the punt block, the coach said it was an is­sue with “the shield” – the block­ers just in front of the punter.

“It was just a break­down in tech­nique,” Davis said. “We had a chance to [block] them, and we missed.”

On the pick six, Davis said pro­tec­tion was again the prob­lem.

“[Mar­shall] gave us a lit­tle more pres­sure with some of their blitzes,” Davis said. “We try to keep the pocket clean so James can step up, but they were putting pres­sure up the mid­dle.”

A bright spot for FIU in the loss was the play of mid­dle line­backer Sage Lewis, who made nine tack­les, giv­ing him a school record 126 stops this sea­son.

“Sage is a tremen­dous worker,” Lu­bin said. “He is a field gen­eral. I can see why he got the record.”

DANIEL A. VARELA Daniel A. Varela

Florida In­ter­na­tional Univer­sity cor­ner­back Rishard Dames in­ter­cepts the pass in­tended for Mar­shall Univer­sity wide re­ceiver Tyre Brady. Brady, a for­mer UM re­ceiver, caught two touch­downs Satur­day.

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