Sports

Late interception helps FIU hold off Old Dominion for much-needed victory

Old Dominion quarterback Hayden Wolff (11) fumbles the ball against the FIU Panthers in the fourth quarter of a football game in the Riccardo Silva Stadium at Florida International University on Saturday, November 2, 2019.
Old Dominion quarterback Hayden Wolff (11) fumbles the ball against the FIU Panthers in the fourth quarter of a football game in the Riccardo Silva Stadium at Florida International University on Saturday, November 2, 2019. mocner@miamiherald.com

FIU Panthers senior safety Olin Cushion had a noticeable amount of blood gushing from his right arm, which ordinarily would have meant his immediate removal from Saturday’s game against Old Dominion University.

But Cushion wasn’t coming out.

Not in his final game on FIU’s campus.

Not with FIU’s defense needing to make a stand against an ODU team that was trailing by just one touchdown in the final 69 seconds.

“I was wiping blood everywhere,” said Cushion, who is from Miami Central High. [Fellow FIU safety] Dorian Hall tried to take my side of the field, but I said, ‘Nah, you can’t get this side. I need this side so the ref won’t see the blood and take me out.’

“The next thing I know, the ball was coming to me, and I ran up under it and slid on my knees.”

Cushion made the interception — the third of his career and the first of this season — preserving FIU’s 24-17 win over ODU.

Cushion, who made the pick at ODU’s 27-yard line, was just one of several heroes for FIU on Saturday.

Junior wide receiver Shemar Thornton caught six passes for a career-high 125 yards. His day included a 54-yard catch.

Senior running back Napoleon Maxwell, who had just one carry for negative-2 yards last week in a 50-17 loss at Middle Tennessee, came back strong with 16 carries for a game-high 83 yards and one touchdown. His output included a 46-yard run.

Two other seniors — quarterback James Morgan and wide receiver Maurice Alexander — also had big moments for FIU as the Panthers improved to 5-4 overall and 3-3 in Conference USA.

Morgan completed 20-of-33 passes for 252 yards, and he also scored FIU’s other touchdown on a 1-yard run. Morgan, who lost a fumble attempting to throw, had no official interceptions. But he had a would-be interception called back by a penalty.

FIU redshirt junior Jose Borregales added three field goals on five attempts to cap the scoring.

The downside to this game for FIU is that it struggled at times against an ODU team that entered as a 17-point underdog and left Miami with a 1-8 record overall, 0-5 in the league.

ODU, which has lost eight consecutive games, gave the start at quarterback to true freshman Hayden Wolff, a native of Venice, Florida, who made his collegiate debut in his homecoming.

The only interception Wolff threw all day came on his last pass, and Cushion said he baited the rookie.

“On the play before the interception, he threw low, and I dove, and that’s when I started bleeding,” Cushion said. “But I was trying to distract him, telling him, ‘Come on. Come on.’ ”

The plan worked for FIU, which visits rival Florida Atlantic next week and is one win away from bowl eligibility for the third year in a row. But FIU, which is 0-3 on the road this season, has a tough remaining schedule. First, it’s FAU, which has beaten FIU in each of the. past two years by a combined score of 101-38.

Then it’s a game at Marlins Park against the Miami Hurricanes, a program FIU has never beaten. And, finally, it’s a road game against Marshall.

The Panthers will likely be underdogs in all three games.

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