FIU’s convincing 41-17 domination of visiting Western Kentucky on Friday night has clinched a winning record and put the Panthers within one win of tying the program record for victories.
The Panthers (7-4, 5-3 Conference USA) can tie that record a week from Saturday when they conclude their regular season with a non-conference game against visiting Massachusetts (4-7).
A bowl game for the Panthers is not assured, but it is looking more and more likely, especially after this win against Western Kentucky (6-6, 4-4), the 2016 Conference USA champions.
“It’s exciting,” FIU senior linebacker Anthony Wint said. “I’m happy for the seniors. We’ve been around a long time and never had a winning record.”
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FIU snapped a two-game losing streak. And in its series against WKU, FIU broke a four-game losing streak.
WKU senior quarterback Mike White — the reigning Conference USA Player of the Week who leads the league in passing yards — completed 30 of 49 passes for 355 yards and two touchdowns.
But White, who played his high school ball locally at University School, was sacked five times and never really got untracked.
FIU defensive end Fermin Silva had 2 1/2 sacks to lead the way for the Panthers defense.
On offense for FIU, quarterback Alex McGough completed 17 of 26 passes for 227 yards and one touchdown, with no interceptions.
Shawndarrius Phillips, a backup running back for FIU, had 17 carries for a career-high 69 yards and two touchdowns.
Phillips, who celebrated his birthday Thursday, said he had special motivation.
“I played like they took my Thanksgiving,” he said. “I didn’t really get to go home and visit my family. I was born on Thanksgiving. This is my holiday. Me missing it, I went out there with the mind-set that they took my Thanksgiving.”
As for the nuts and bolts of the game, most of the action happened in the second half. The teams traded field goals in the first quarter — 22 yards by FIU’s Jose Borregales and 38 yards by Ryan Nuss to tie the score.
WKU took its first lead in the second quarter when White hit Lucky Jackson for a 28-yard touchdown along the left sideline.
FIU tied the score 10-10 on a four-yard run by Phillips, and Borregales’ 20-yard field goal with 1:07 left in the first half put the Panthers up 13-10.
The first big play of the third quarter came when Emmanuel Lubin, a backup cornerback for FIU, intercepted a pass and ran it 68 yards for a touchdown. But the play — which would have given the Panthers a 20-10 lead — was negated by a roughing-the-passer penalty.
On the next play, White threw a touchdown pass to Nacarius Fant to give WKU a 17-13 lead.
But FIU went back on top on a 42-yard TD pass from McGough to Darrius Scott. WKU blitzed on that play, but McGough spun to his left, escaped an attempted ankle tackle and fired toward the end zone, where Scott high-pointed the ball, beating double-coverage.
That gave FIU a 20-17 lead that it did not relinquish. The Panthers added a one-yard touchdown run by Phillips and D’Vonte Price’s 38-yard fumble recovery to take a 34-17 lead after three quarters.
FIU capped the scoring on a trick play — a fake punt that became a 24-yard touchdown pass from punter Stone Wilson to tight end Pharoah Mckever.
“We practiced that all week,” Wint said. “There was intensity on the sideline when we knew we were going to run it.”