FIU coach Butch Davis called it a “huge, gigantic, big play,” and it’s hard to argue how important — and in a sense how strategic, exciting and even odd — a sequence it was in Saturday’s 30-17 win over New Hampshire.
To set the scene, FIU — looking to secure its first win of the season — was leading 20-17 with less than nine minutes left in the game.
In the boxscore, the play went down as a 10-yard punt return for a touchdown by FIU backup linebacker Dimitry Prophete, but that description doesn’t do the sequence any justice.
It started with the strategy. Davis, in consultation with FIU special teams coach James Vollono, had decided to use a second punt returner on that play. In addition to 2018 All-Conference USA punt returner Maurice Alexander, who was lined up deep, the Panthers used Tony Gaiter IV as the short man.
“Maurice is pretty dangerous, and [New Hampshire punter Drew Sanborn] was trying to kick away from him,” Davis said. “[The punt] was short, and Tony was in the right position.”
Gaiter did a fine job of running 34 yards with the kick, but, just as he was about to get tackled, he flipped it back to Prophete, which didn’t please Davis.
Prophete — a junior from Miami Southridge who is not known for having great hands — caught the pitch and scored, saving Gaiter from some serious conversations with his coaches.
“I told [Gaiter] I would almost take his scholarship away for pitching the ball back to Prophete,” Davis joked. “That’s the first ball [Prophete’s] caught in two and a half years.
“I’m just teasing, but it was a dangerous thing to do. I would rather take the ball at the one-yard line [and not pitch it back].”
THIS AND THAT
▪ FIU (1-2, 0-1) is set to play a league game on Friday at Louisiana Tech (2-1, 0-0). Tech senior quarterback J’Mar Smith ranks second in the league in passing yards per game (275.5).
▪ FIU’s men’s soccer team is off to a great start at 4-0-1, routing Conference USA rival Florida Atlantic 6-1 this past Saturday. FIU trailed 1-0 and then scored six straight goals. FIU led 2-1 when a red card forced FAU to play with just 10 men for the final 58 minutes.
Alessandro Campoy, a junior midfielder from Haiti, led FIU with three goals and one assist. Two of his goals were on penalty kicks. FIU’s next game at home on Tuesday against North Florida.
▪ Besides star wide receiver T.Y. Hilton with the Colts, other former FIU players who are currently on NFL rosters are quarterback Alex McGough (Texans), tight end Jonnu Smith (Titans) and safety Jonathan Cyprien (Eagles).
Among ex-FIU players who got cut by NFL teams during training camp this fall were wide receiver C.J. Worton (Falcons); linebacker Anthony Wint (Jets); offensive tackle Dieugot Joseph (Falcons, injury settlement); cornerback Jeremiah McKinnon (Eagles); punter Stone Wilson (Dolphins); and tight end Pharoah McKever (Packers).