Like many a contractor, FIU needed to work through some problems before getting Saturday’s game with Old Dominion constructed according to plan: a fourth-quarter lead with the Monarchs defense tiring and the Panthers pass rush finally getting through.
Like many a contractor though, the Panthers didn’t finish the job, losing 38-35 on Satchel Ziffer’s walk-off 28-yard field goal after going into the final two minutes up 35-28.
While the Monarchs jumped around like gleeful puppies in celebration, FIU’s players stood dejected before slowly walking off the field.
The losing streak for FIU (3-7, 2-4 Conference USA) is now four games and ends any bowl-eligibility hopes.
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“It [stinks],” said junior running back Anthon Samuel, who ran for 137 yards on 25 carries. “We have to come together as a team. We have two more games to play, and we’re just trying to win those two games.”
FIU ran for 256 yards on 55 carries. Freshman Napoleon Maxwell ran for 70 yards on 14 carries, and quarterback Alex McGough ran for 49 yards and a touchdown.
FIU owned the ball for the first three quarters, leading in time of possession 28:36 to 16:24. After Old Dominion rolled up 281 yards of offense and didn’t punt in the first half while taking a 21-10 hafltime lead, FIU ran off 17 consecutive points to take a 27-21 third-quarter lead.
When Samuel manfully barged through half the Old Dominion defense on a 26-yard touchdown run and Clinton Taylor ran in a two-point conversion to give FIU a 35-28 lead, a Monarchs defense that is woeful even when fresh wore the worn look of action figures played with for two generations.
But FIU went three-and-out on each of its next two possessions, including after a fourth-down stop that gave the Panthers the ball at their 29 with 5:43 left. McGough kept on an option for 3 yards on third-and-5 from the FIU 34.
“We did what we did all game long,” FIU coach Ron Turner said. “We were trying to get first downs and score some more. We had to score. If we were trying to run the clock out, we would’ve gone [to] two tight [ends] and just pounded the ball. We continued to run our game plan. We just didn’t get it done.”
A wayward duck of a 28-yard punt by Jose Laphitzondo left the Monarchs 65 yards from tying the game, which they did on Ray Lawry’s 2-yard run with 1:05 left.
On the previous play, senior quarterback Taylor Heinicke (20 of 35 for 315 yards, two touchdowns and 52 yards rushing) stood in against an FIU stampede and found running back Gerard Johnson uncovered on the left sideline. Johnson got pushed out by redshirt junior cornerback Richard Leonard after a 30-yard gain.
FIU got the ball back on its own 25 with 58 seconds left. Following a draw play to Samuel, McGough made his first awful decision of the night.
While being pulled down, he tried a desperate flip to Samuel that fluttered off Samuel’s fingertips and into the hands of ODU’s Fellonte Misher at the FIU 33 with 23 seconds left.
“Throughout the game, the quarterback on third and long usually cleared everyone out and just would throw the check down,” Misher said. “I had that in mind the whole game. Once I saw that he was being pressured, I just ran for the check ball and he happened to tip it, and I got under it.”
Zach Pascal’s second Mikhail Baryshnikov toe-tap catch (his first was at the back of the end zone for a 1-yard touchdown) finished a 24-yard gain to the FIU 7.
Heinicke ran the ball to the middle of the field for Ziffer’s first career field-goal attempt.
“It’s not one play, believe me,” Turner said of the interception. “That one play was not the game, believe me. We had plenty of other opportunities.”
The extreme nature of Old Dominion’s strengths (offense) and weaknesses (defense, especially run defense) tend to dictate the Monarchs games. Saturday followed suit.
FIU’s first possession, an 80-yard drive, lasted 16 plays and 8:19 on the clock. McGough completed only one pass, a 9-yarder to senior tight end Akil Dan-Fodio, and ran six times for 38 yards.
He bulled through linebacker D.J. Simon for the final 2 yards and gave FIU a 7-0 lead.
Old Dominion scored on its next three possessions: Heinicke on a 1-yard keeper on fourth-and-goal; Lawry, who ran for 142 yards on 18 carries, on a 34-yard burst through the left side; and senior wide receiver Antonio Vaughan on a 74-yard bomb. Vaughan finished with six catches for 140 yards.