Eighth verse, same as the seventh in a song that remained the same for FIU on Saturday afternoon. For the second week in a row, the Panthers managed enough boo-boos to transform a double-digit lead into heartbreak, once more with feeling.
A low, wobbling 42-yard field goal by Troy’s Will Scott with 11 seconds left ended a 69-yard drive executed without timeouts and left FIU one point short, 38-37. That one point seemed remarkably similar to the 1-yard short FIU came last week on the final play of a 34-30 loss to Middle Tennessee. That they’ve been truly blown out once doesn’t make FIU’s 1-7 record look any better.
“Nobody understands what’s going on,” said FIU senior running back Darian Mallary, who had a touchdown but also a fourth-quarter fumble in Troy territory. “It’s like the same thing’s happening every week. We can’t pull it together.”
Both games, FIU led by 10 at the half and by more at other times of the game. Saturday, FIU turned a 24-14 halftime lead into a 37-21 third-quarter bulge after redshirt sophomore Justin Halley alertly realized a quick hitch dropped by Troy’s Chandler Worthy actually was a lateral. Halley scooped the loose ball and ran 62 yards for a touchdown. Senior kicker Jack Griffin, perfect for his career on extra points until he missed one last week, clanked the extra point.
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Later, an up-man getting in the way of a punt snap kept senior Josh Brisk from being able to get off a punt before being tackled at the FIU 33. Troy took over and drove to a Deon Anthony touchdown run that cut the FIU lead to 37-35.
“It’s routine stuff, missing an extra point, personal protector jumping in front of the snap to the punter before the ball gets there…,” FIU coach Mario Cristobal said. “Things we’ve never even done in practice, showed up at pretty critical times today.”
While Cristobal called the mistakes, “upsetting beyond words,” Troy coach Larry Blakeney said of the Trojans win, “I’m still beyond words here.
“I thought we could win the game, then I went and watched them warm up,” Blakeney said, “and that has been as about as good looking a football team that has walked in here from the Sun Belt in a long time.”
That’s what it looked like in the first quarter, as FIU took a 21-7 lead, looking like the team they hoped they’d be this season – offense that can bomb or bully with a swift-reacting defense that gives little chance for plays to develop. FIU redshirt sophomore Jake Medlock hit touchdown passes to juniors Glenn Coleman and Willis Wright for 33 and 49 yards, Mallary and Kedrick Rhodes ran for 49 yards on just seven carries.
Yet, as the game wore on FIU couldn’t consistently stop Troy backup quarterback Anthony, starting in place of concussed quarterback Corey Robinson. Anthony ran for 115 yards on 19 carries, including touchdowns of 33 and 13 yards. Both scores came on third and long. He also completed 29 of 41 for 245 yards and three touchdowns, and bounced back from some massive shots from FIU pass rushers.
“Sometimes, he would break out and the other ones, we’ve got to wrap up when we get a chance,” Cristobal said. “Credit to him for being a tough athletic guy making a play, but we’ve got to wrap him up and get him on the ground.”
Anthony got help from his teammates after Brisk scooped up a skidding snap, then got off a perfect 47-yard punt that rolled out on the Troy 6. The Trojans had no timeouts. On the second play, running back Shawn Southward took a shovel pass and broke several tackles for a 27-yard gain that got a bonus when FIU junior Sam Miller hit Southward just after he went out of bounds.
The next play, sophomore cornerback Richard Leonard got called for pass interference, putting the ball on the FIU 29. Sophomore Giovanni Francois sacked Anthony for a 9-yard loss to the 38. After a clock-stopping spike, Anthony found Southward open in the right flat. Southward got 13 yards to the 25, but also got out of bounds with 16 seconds left.
“The All-American play was by Shawn Southward to get out of bounds and stop the clock,” Blakeney said. “The kick was not textbook.”
Wobbling and barely higher than a monster truck, it was just good enough. And it meant FIU, again, just wasn’t good enough.