In a college football weekend already filled with upsets all around the country, FIU added its own improbable victory to the mix on Saturday night.
Entering their first ever matchup against Tulane as two-touchdown underdogs, the Panthers emerged as victors with a 23-10 win over the Green Wave at Riccardo Silva Stadium. The victory helped FIU (4-2) match their best start in program history, set back in 2011.
The Panthers defense was forced to face a potent Green Wave rushing attack without linebackers Anthony Wint and Treyvon Williams, the unit’s two leading tacklers.
No matter. The Panthers were able to contain Tulane’s top two offensive weapons –dual-threat quarterback Jonathan Banks and senior running back Dontrell Hilliard – holding the Green Wave to 239 yards of total offense. The defense also tallied three sacks, five tackles for loss and two turnovers.
“We’re building our own history now,” said FIU Head Coach Butch Davis. “This will be one of those stories we’ll talk about for years.”
The possession game leaned heavily in FIU’s favor as the Panthers left the Green Wave defense on the field for more 36 minutes and wearing them down as the game moved down.
The Panthers’ running back by committee approach played a huge role in that edge with Alex Gardner leading the way with 79 yards on 20 carries and Shawndarius Phillips scoring his first collegiate rushing touchdown in the fourth quarter.
FIU, after rushing for a season-low 85 yards rushing against Middle Tennessee the week prior, finished with 218 rushing yards.
Senior quarterback Alex McGough opened the scoring for the Panthers late in the first quarter, eluding a sack on third and goal and connected with tight end Pharoah McKever for a 12-yard touchdown pass to give FIU a 7-0 lead.
After both teams exchanged field goals early in the second quarter, Tulane intercepted McGough for a second time to set up a potential game-tying drive before halftime.
But on fourth down and three at the FIU 19-yard line with a minute left in the first half, the Green Wave decided to go for it and the gamble failed. Senior safety Bryce Canady brought down Tulane quarterback Jonathan Banks in the backfield with an open field tackle to end the threat and give the Panthers a 10-3 lead at the halfway mark.
“It was big for us and gave us a lot of confidence going into the second half,” Canady said. “We went in strong, so we came out strong.”
After staving off the run game for most of the first half, Tulane’s run game burst to life halfway through the third quarter. The Green Wave pounded away at FIU’s defense with a 75-yard scoring drive, all gained on the ground, capped by a 12-yard rushing score by Hilliard with 5:25 left in the third quarter to slice the FIU down to three points.
That was as close as Tulane would get. Phillips rumbled into the endzone on a three-yard rushing score early in the fourth quarter and FIU kicker Jose Borregales converted a 39-yard field goal, his third of the evening, with 5:30remaining to seal the deal for the Panthers.
The Panthers will enjoy a bye week before returning to conference play with a road game against Marshall on Oct. 28.
THIS AND THAT
· FIU’s defense held Tulane’s passing attack in check most of the night. The Green Wave finished the game with 36 total passing yards.
· The Panthers have matched their win total from the 2016 season. The last time FIU won more than four games in a season was 2011.
· Fermin Silva registered two of FIU’s three sacks and now leads the team in that category.