Florida International U

FIU beats Texas San Antonio for sixth win to become bowl-eligible

The FIU football team celebrates after its 14-7 win over UTSA Saturday night that made them bowl eligible at 6-2.
The FIU football team celebrates after its 14-7 win over UTSA Saturday night that made them bowl eligible at 6-2. dneal@miamiherald.com

Treyvon Williams lingered before detonating into a University of Texas at San Antonio ball carrier at the goal line late in FIU’s 14-7 win at Riccardo Silva Stadium.

“I shuffled … and when I watched him hit it. I hit it,” Williams said.

The stop kept the Panthers in the lead with minutes remaining in the Conference USA bout. It also helped the Panthers (6-2, 4-1) earn their sixth win of the season, making them eligible for their third bowl in school history.

“The game is on the line,” Williams said. “We have to make this stand. As a defense we always applaud ourselves for coming up on third downs and fourth down.”

The Panthers’ defense made a habit of devouring the Roadrunners’ running game, holding the visitors to minus-7 rushing yards in the first quarter. Both defenses clamped down in the red zone to keep the game scoreless at the half.

The Panthers missed their best chance to take the lead after the holder muffed a snap on a short field-goal attempt in the second quarter. The gaff ended a 10-play, 5:42 drive.

UTSA (5-3, 2-3) responded immediately with a six-play drive but also muffed its attempt on a 46-yard field-goal attempt.

Williams, a Panthers linebacker and Norland product, took eight tackles, four tackles for a loss and two sacks into the locker room. He finished the game with 13 total takedowns, leading all defenders.

“He’s one of those guys that’s all over, sideline-to-sideline,” Panthers coach Butch Davis said. “He has got excellent instincts. He’s got that burst and acceleration to explode on the quarterback.

“He made multitudes of big plays in the second half. Keeping them out of the end zone on the 1-yard line takes a lot of heart and determination.”

FIU finally ended its scoring drought with a 93-yard drive midway through the third quarter. That 15-play drive that used up 8:19 ended with a 13-yard pass from Alex McGough to Thomas Owens, giving the Panthers a 7-0 edge with 3:40 remaining in the quarter.

The Panthers recovered a fumbled return on the ensuing kickoff and took over in Roadrunners territory.

It didn’t take long for FIU to pile on.

McGough took the next snap and fired it to the middle of the field, hitting running back Shawndarrius Phillips in stride for an 18-yard score.

Those two scores came in 13 seconds, after more than 41 minutes of scoreless football.

UTSA got on the scoreboard at the start of the fourth quarter when Dalton Strum completed a 12-yard strike to Brady Jones.

Williams and the Panthers’ defense held the Roadrunners scoreless for the remaining 13 minutes to secure the victory.

McGough completed 18-of-25 passes for 215 yards, two scores and an interception. The Panthers offensive line did not allow a sack. Owens finished the game with eight catches for 72 yards and a score.

Panthers linebacker Anthony Wint also had a strong game with a dozen tackles in the win. Defensive end Newton Salisbury had 2 1/2 sacks and nine tackles.

“I think our kids, the one thing they have done all season, is being able to compartmentalize the previous weeks,” Davis said. “We are 0-0 we want to be 1-1 at the end of the week.

“All we want to do is try to win the next game and play the best that we can.”

The Panthers host Old Dominion in another C-USA game at 7 p.m. Saturday at Riccardo Silva Stadium. FIU has an even bigger matchup on Nov. 18 when it travels to face C-USA East Division leader Florida Atlantic.

“I’m pretty sure I teared up on the sideline for a second. … I just think the attitude of everybody after the game shows what we’ve been through and what we’ve grinded for,” McGough said. “It’s here because we kept with the program and bought into Coach Davis.

“The effort, the sweat, the tears, blood, throw up, it’s all for this right now. The fact that the seniors and juniors … everybody that has been here that hasn’t had success. I’m at a loss for words.”