BOCA RATON -- You could say FIU dropped its final game of the season, 21-6, to FAU on Friday night at FAU Stadium.
You could also say the Owls caught what the Panthers dropped.
Both accurately describe Friday’s separation between 6-6 and bowl-eligible FAU and 1-11 FIU, which suffered through its worst season since the 1-11 2007 season.
FAU recaptured The Shula Bowl trophy after two years of FIU possession.
Owls sophomore quarterback Jaquez Johnson, FAU’s leading rusher, came into the game with only nine touchdown passes and averaging 166.3 passing yards per game. But Johnson threw for 218 yards and touchdown passes of 11, 59 and 23 yards to fifth-year senior Nexon Dorvilus, junior William Dukes and redshirt junior Alex Deleon, respectively.
Fifth-year senior running back Damian Fortner reached 100 yards on 19 carries as the Owls ran out the clock.
Fifth-year senior linebacker Markeith Russell led FIU with 11 tackles. Russell’s been one of the few constants for a defense that started a different lineup in every game.
“I thought we did well at the line of scrimmage,” FIU coach Ron Turner said. “Our defensive line, our up front guys did a good job of getting some penetration. I thought we hustled and, for the most part, tackled well which was a big point of emphasis all week. There were going to be a lot of one-on-one tackles, some tackles in space, and when we have the opportunity, we have to tackle.”
Meanwhile, FIU set the tone for its 132-yard offensive night on its third possession. As freshman wide receiver Shug Oyegunle took the handoff on an end around pass, redshirt sophomore Dominique Rhymes got open behind everyone. Oyegunle’s pass forced Rhymes to slow up, but still struck him in the hands and between the numbers…before falling to the ground.
FAU caught three touchdown passes. FIU dribbled three potential touchdown passes.
Redshirt sophomore T.J. Lowder, who had kickoff returns of 40 and 50 yards, dropped a bomb at the end of quarterback Jake Medlock’s throwing range in the second quarter with FIU down 7-3. With FIU down 21-3 in the third quarter, Lowder couldn’t hold onto another pass in the end zone on a route up the sideline. Fifth-year senior Rocky Vann couldn’t hold on to a similar throw on the same route.
So, FIU had to settle for 35-yard and 43-yard field goals from freshman Austin Taylor.
“It’s always frustrating when you can’t complete a play,” said Medlock, who left the game with a rib injury in the third quarter. “I missed some throws. We didn’t let it get to us. We kept fighting, which I loved every single minute of it.”
Though Medlock took seven sacks — fifth-year senior Martin Wright recorded 3.5 sacks and backup E.J. Hilliard one — Medlock said, “The O-line did great. We were down to our third string center [junior Byron Pinkston]. We all helped each other. They kept fighting through the whole entire game and I was so proud of them.”
Turner said after the game what he has said previously: he was proud of FIU’s seniors for continuing to extend the effort as the losses mounted.
“I’m a little sad it’s over,” FIU senior defensive tackle Greg Hickman said, his voice catching every few words. “We played tough tonight. A few plays we would’ve come out with the victory and had a different feeling at the end. Other than that, I’m sad the season’s over. I wasn’t ready to give it up.”