FIU junior defensive tackle Imarjaye Albury still wore some of his pads and all the pain from Saturday’s 42-34 loss to Middle Tennessee State.
FIU fell behind by 12 after trading the lead with Middle for much of the first half. Down by 15 going into the fourth quarter, the Panthers twice got Middle’s lead down to one score. But they ran out of downs with 1:08 remaining.
“It hurts, it hurts really badly. We work so hard to be put in situations like this,” Albury said. “To come close, but to come up short, it definitely hurts. But we have to keep our goals in mind, keep our confidence in ourselves.”
This year’s goal, a Conference USA title, might be gone realistically for the Panthers, 3-4, 1-2 in conference play.
FIU’s two conference losses leave it fourth in the East Division behind Western Kentucky and Marshall (zero conference losses) and, now, Middle (one loss).
Western’s already beaten Middle and closes the season with Marshall.
To have a chance in a set of tiebreakers, FIU likely would have to win its final two games — at Marshall and home against Western.
Western had an off night at North Texas Thursday — and still scored 55.
Last year’s goal — going to and winning a bowl game — remains much more attainable.
What FIU lost Saturday, however, is what Middle already had lost with three non-conference losses then getting lit up by Western: margin for error.
FIU’s been installed as a 15-point favorite over Old Dominion for Saturday’s homecoming game. The next home game after Saturday sees Charlotte, which just lost to Old Dominion, come to FIU.
Between those games, however, FIU spends Halloween in Boca Raton for the Shula Bowl with FAU. Another upset in that rivalry’s history would leave FIU needing a win in one of those last two games to be bowl eligible.
And that’s all the Panthers need to be to go bowling with C-USA having seven primary bowl affiliations.
“I’m very proud of this team,” FIU coach Ron Turner said. “I still believe we have a very good football team. We have nothing to hang our head about. We got beat, on the road, by a very good football team that played better than us today.
“We’ve got a lot of football left, a lot of things still to accomplish. If we stay together as a team, we’ll accomplish those things.”