Of course this is how this dark comedy of a loss in FIU’s Charles Addams’ season ended.
Despite a remarkable array of goofs and oops, FIU still had a chance to tie Western Kentucky, down 14-6 and at the Western 21 with eight seconds left.
Freshman backup quarterback E.J. Hilliard, in the game because quarterback Jake Medlock cracked his right hand on a Western defensive lineman’s helmet while completing a fourth down pass the previous play, got a limp snap. Hilliard scooped up the ball, then moved to his right. Before he could launch a frantic pass to the end zone, Western defensive end Quanterus Smith slammed into Hilliard, sending the ball bounding away.
Western’s Rammel Lewis fell onto the ball.
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Smith’s fifth sack, FIU’s third lost fumble in scoring range and the fourth turnover overall was the denouement of a 14-6 FIU loss.
As ugly as FIU’s record (1-8) and Saturday’s game were, it could get worse.
If Medlock’s right hand doesn’t take him out of action again, his left shoulder might. FIU coach Mario Cristobal said he sprained it when sacked by Cole Tischler earlier in that final drive. Medlock played on, his left arm hanging limply between plays.
The two games Medlock missed with a broken foot were FIU’s two worst offensive performances of the season before Saturday. FIU outgained Western 342 to 289, but managed only two field goals — the Panthers second consecutive touchdown-less game against Western — while Western scored two touchdowns after FIU boo boos.
Western sacked FIU quarterbacks nine times while FIU got Hilltoppers quarterback Kawaun Jakes three times. FIU also stoned Western twice on fourth down, a fourth and inches stop of Kadeem Jones from the FIU 3 being the highlight of a defensive struggle that turned on, again, FIU mistakes.
“The defense stepped up and played one of its best games of the year,” Cristobal said.
Western’s first touchdown, a 1-yard run by Kadeem Jones, came after FIU senior defensive end Tourek Williams got flagged offside on a third down incompletion by Jakes. On the third and 1 from the FIU 21, Jakes hit tight end Jack Doyle to the FIU 1.
The second touchdown, a 3-yard run by Antonio Andrews with 2:24 left in the game, followed long snapper Mitch McCluggage dribbling a snap back to punter Josh Brisk. Brisk got tackled on the FIU 6. A lousy punt snap from McCluggage led to a Troy touchdown in last week’s 38-37 loss.
“He’s the only long snapper we’ve got, the other guy’s dinged up pretty good,” Cristobal said.
Without that, FIU would’ve needed only a field goal on the final drive. Of course, that would’ve been no sure thing as Jack Griffin missed from 40 yards in the third quarter after Medlock took a 10-yard sack on third down.
Even when things worked for FIU, they didn’t work. On FIU’s second possession, senior wide receiver Wayne Times, a quarterback at Northwestern High, took a backward pass from Medlock and saw junior wide receiver Willis Wright deep up the right sideline. Wright slowed up slightly for Times’ pass, yet was a stride from the goal line when Western’s Jonathan Dowling stripped the ball from him. The ball went into the end zone, where Western’s Cam Thomas recovered.
In the fourth quarter Dowling would knock away another near touchdown pass to Wright, who was flying deep up the right sideline again.
In the second quarter, FIU junior running back Kedrick Rhodes fumbled at the Western 17 after an 18-yard run. Western’s Kiante Young forced the fumble, then after it bounced away from a diving Times, Young scooped it up.
“We left a good amount of points on the field,” Cristobal said. “It’s certainly not from lack of trying. Kid’s just trying to make a play.”