The Shula Bowl Trophy stays in Miami-Dade County this year and for the foreseeable future.
FIU outlasted FAU 34-24 in a game augmented by several injury timeouts, a 37-minute lightning delay and passing, passing, passing.
The Shula Bowl MVPs were FIU redshirt sophomore quarterback Jake Medlock, who threw for two touchdowns and 264 yards on 17-of-28 passing, and FAU sophomore wide receiver William Dukes, who had six catches for 116 yards.
After an incredibly slow start, FIU junior Kedrick Rhodes ran for 99 yards on 18 carries. FAU’s Graham Wilbert threw for 403 yards on 28-of-51 passing. FIU’s defense held FAU to minus-12 yards rushing, an FIU record. And Richard Leonard’s school-record 100-yard kickoff return gave FIU the lead for good in the third quarter.
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Neither team could muster a running game in the first half — FIU 38 yards on 18 attempts, FAU minus-11 yards on 11 carries because of 25 yards in sacks FIU put on fifth-year senior Graham Wilbert. Still, both teams almost insisted on probing with the run throughout a half that ended with FIU ahead 14-10.
Come the second half, forget that.
A 47-yard Wilbert bomb to Dukes and a Daniel McKinney toe-tapping sideline catch put FAU on the FIU 1. Junior running back Jonathan Wallace, running out of a wildcat formation, plowed over to put FAU in front 17-14.
FAU’s first lead of the night lasted 13 seconds. That’s how long it took sophomore cornerback Leonard, the fastest Panther, to take the kickoff at the goal line and race through a hole in the right side of the coverage for the longest kickoff return in program history, 100 yards. A clanked extra point kept FAU within field-goal range, 20-17.
The next time FIU got the ball, Jake Medlock came out firing. Only one designed running play interrupted a pass-heavy 73-yard drive that ended with Medlock floating to his right, then zipping a 15-yard touchdown pass to Wayne Times in the back of the end zone.
Before FIU could fully enjoy the easier breathing that 27-17 bulge allowed, a pass deflected by FIU linebacker Winston Fraser wound up in the arms of FAU freshman Jenson Stoshak behind the FIU defense. The 60-yard touchdown cut the lead to 27-24 with 13:38 left.
And here came the reaction. More throws by Medlock, who had to leave the game by NCAA rule after his helmet got removed on a scramble. Freshman E.J. Hillard replaced him for a snap.
Then, shockingly, on the one play everyone remaining in FAU Stadium knew would be a run to Kedrick Rhodes, Rhodes burst out for 31 yards. Two more Rhodes runs put the ball in the end zone for a 34-24 lead.
FAU’s last deep scoring threat got repelled when senior safety Johnathan Cyprien picked off Wilbert inside the FIU 10, Wilbert’s first interception in 250 passes.
For the fourth time this season, FIU scored on its opening possession. This time, the Panthers conjured the longest drive of the season against FAU, 99 yards after Sean Kelly’s 64-yard punt pinned the Panthers on their own 1.
After a false start penalty and a run for nothing by Kedrick Rhodes, the Panthers shot their way out — senior wide receiver Jacob Younger streaked up the right sideline under a Medlock toss for 46 yards.
Two more first downs came on a pair of Medlock runs, a scramble for 8 on third-and-7 and an option keep for 11.
FIU’s insistence on first- and second-down runs put it in another third-and-long, third-and-17 from the FAU 38.
Medlock scrambled to his right as Willis Wright came open along the right sideline downfield. Wright shook off one tackle attempt, then dragged another defensive back into the end zone for the touchdown.
In the second quarter, FAU responded to FIU’s third sack in three drives with two quick passes — a slant to junior Daniel McKinney for 36 yards to the FIU 24 and an out to freshman Jason Stoshak for 7. On third-and-3 from the 17, Wilbert lofted a ball into the end zone for Nexon Dorvilus. FIU fifth-year senior linebacker Winston Fraser positioned himself for the knockdown, but mistimed his leap. Dorvilus came down with the game-tying touchdown.
Call and response: Medlock found Glenn Coleman for 11 on a first-down throw, Kedrick Rhodes for 12 on a third-and-6 and Younger downfield for 24 on a second-down play-action pass. Another second-down completion to Younger, this time for 16 yards, put the ball on the FAU 5.
And then, the Panthers got a little cheeky. After sending Wright in motion to the left, Medlock took the snap and started to the left as if on a sprint out.
Just as two FAU linemen snagged Medlock, he twisted and fired an overhand lateral to right tackle Rupert Bryan. Bryan corralled the lateral, then chugged down the sideline to plow into the end zone.
As a lateral recipient, Bryan didn’t need to report as eligible.
Another FAU possession ended in a sack, FIU’s fourth, before, once again, the Panthers injected drama into the punt return. Kelly’s punt bounced off freshman Jeremiah McKinnon’s helmet and David Hinds recovered for FAU at the FIU 33.
A 37-yard Mitch Anderson field goal resulted, cutting FIU’s lead to 14-10 at halftime.