It was the biggest home game in FIU football history, but it was far from the best the Panthers have played.
The Panthers, who have not had a punt blocked all season, were victimized in that fashion for a touchdown.
FIU quarterback James Morgan, who has set a school record this season with 26 touchdown passes and had just five interceptions in his first 11 games, threw a pick six and another drive-killing toss.
Jose Borregales, a kicker who will be in the NFL one day according to FIU coach Butch Davis, missed a 28-yard field-goal attempt and had a 43-yarder blocked.
In essence, many of the things FIU had done so well all season to put itself one way from playing in the Conference USA championship game for the first time fell apart on Saturday in a 28-25 loss to visiting Marshall.
FIU (8-4, 6-2) lost the East Division title to Middle Tennessee, a team it beat earlier this season.
“It hurts because we knew we had the game in our grasp,” FIU cornerback Emmanuel Lubin said. “We just didn’t capitalize on certain plays.”
FIU will play in a bowl game, and the details of that will be announced on December 2. But no matter who the Panthers draw, they will get a chance to set a school record with a win, which would be their ninth of the season.
No FIU team has won more than eight, and Davis has eight in each of his first two years at the school.
But, on Senior Day, it wasn’t much consolation for the Panthers.
“This was a tough one,” Davis said. “The good news for the seniors is that this isn’t the end of the season. We still have an opportunity to get that ninth victory and send the seniors out with a victory.”
Morgan completed 21 of 33 passes for 177 yards, but he suffered those two interceptions. The first one was returned 25 yards to give Marshall a 14-0 lead in the first quarter.
FIU battled to cut its deficit to 14-10 at halftime, getting a 22-yard Borregales field goal and a 1-yard TD run by Anthony Jones.
The only score in the third quarter was the punt block in the end zone, but FIU was resilient.
After Morgan was temporarily knocked out of the game due to a shot on his arm, backup quarterback Christian Alexander ran 8 yards for a touchdown.
Davis reached deep into his playbook and picked up a two-point conversion on a handoff to former quarterback Maurice Alexander and a pass back to Christian Alexander (no relation).
But Marshall wide receiver Tyre Brady – a former star at South Dade High and an ex-Miami Hurricanes player – caught his second touchdown of the game, this one a 3-yarder with 8;42 left in the fourth quarter.
That gave Marshall a 28-18 lead that proved insurmountable.
FIU running back Napoleon Maxwell scored on a 1-yard run with 4:47 left, but Marshall crushed Panthers dreams by running out the clock on an efficient final drive.
Maxwell, who led FIU with 96 yards rushing and averaged 10.7 per carry, said he was proud of the way Morgan came back from injury.
“James is a fighter,” Maxwell said.
Christian Alexander also did well while he was in there, completing 4 of 5 passes for 24 yards.
Davis, meanwhile, addressed some of the issues in the game.
On the punt block, the coach said it was an issue with “the shield” – the blockers just in front of the punter.
“It was just a breakdown in technique,” Davis said. “We had a chance to [block] them, and we missed.”
On the pick six, Davis said protection was again the problem.
“[Marshall] gave us a little more pressure with some of their blitzes,” Davis said. “We try to keep the pocket clean so James can step up, but they were putting pressure up the middle.”
A bright spot for FIU in the loss was the play of middle linebacker Sage Lewis, who made nine tackles, giving him a school record 126 stops this season.
“Sage is a tremendous worker,” Lubin said. “He is a field general. I can see why he got the record.”