It was all set up: Next week’s game at FAU would be the most meaningful Don Shula bowl in history with the winner grabbing the Conference USA East lead. All FIU had to do was defeat a woeful Old Dominion team that came into Riccardo Silva Stadium with just one conference victory to its credit.
The Panthers were on a three-game winning streak. They were undefeated at home. Not anymore, Old Dominion (4-6, 2-4) played like it was the team looking for the division lead in a stunning 37-30 upset victory Saturday night, reducing next week’s game in Boca Raton to one for pride.
The Panthers (6-3, 4-2) drew to within a point in the third quarter on a 9-yard touchdown run by Alex Gardner in the opening drive of the second half, and a safety, to draw within 24-23. But ODU made the Panthers pay for a botched fake-punt attempt, driving 46 yards in five plays for a score and a 31-23 lead as the third quarter neared an end.
A sack of FIU quarterback Alex McGough resulted in a lost fumble and the end of a potential scoring drive that the Monarchs turned into a field goal and a 34-23 lead that all but salted away the win.
McGough threw for 323 yards (35 for 50) and two touchdowns, including a last-minute, 11-yard scoring strike to Tony Gaiter IV.
FIU recovered the ensuing onside kick with 15 seconds remaining, but a Hail Mary pass on the last play of the game fell incomplete in the end zone.
The Panthers’ and C-USA leading receiver Thomas Owen was kept out of the end zone and held to 87 receiving yards on 11 catches. That was slightly below his season average of 100 yards per game.
Both offenses had their way in the first half. Old Dominion took a 24-14 lead into the locker room after true freshman quarterback Steven Williams threw for 230 yards, a career-high. The left-handed passer threw for a pair of touchdowns, and the Monarchs piled up 319 yards of total offense in just the first two quarters.
Williams connected on touchdown passes of 9 and 11 yards to Melvin Vaughn and Ray Lawry, respectively, to begin and end the Monarchs’ scoring in the first half. They punted on their first possession of the game and turned the ball over on downs in their second possession before scoring on each of their final four drives of the first half.
The Panthers scored first with an impressive seven-play, 64-yard drive late in the first quarter. Napolean Maxwell capped the drive with a 3-yard touchdown run on a Monarchs defense that shut out Charlotte 6-0 last week.
FIU sliced through the ODU defense, going 75 yards on 11 plays to tie the score at 14 midway through the second quarter. The Panthers accumulated 226 yards of offense in the first half, and McGough equaled Williams’ 16-for-21 passing stats through a first half that found both defenses on its heels.