Florida International U

FIU Panthers’ gamble pays off with Hail Mary

Jeremiah McKinnon, corner back for FIU, attempts to block and bring down MTSU's running back, Jeremiah Bryson.
Jeremiah McKinnon, corner back for FIU, attempts to block and bring down MTSU's running back, Jeremiah Bryson. FOR THE MIAMI HERALD

Perhaps the most important play of the game justified a tendency by FIU coach Ron Turner that, he said, even his own coaches suggested he ditch.

Several times over the past two years, instead of running the clock out with a quarterback kneel down, FIU would hand off to a running back. This seemed a self-indulgent exercise more likely to get someone injured than break big.

So when junior cornerback Jeremiah McKinnon’s fumble recovery in the end zone gave FIU the ball on the 20 with 40 seconds left, Turner said: “Some of the guys were recommending, ‘Take a knee, take a knee.’ And I said, ‘No, we may pop this.’ We ran it, we popped it. Got into range.”

Junior running back Anthon Samuel, after a 9-yard gain, ran into the pack of Middle Tennessee defenders and kept his legs pumping longer than the Blue Raiders maintained their attempts to tackle him. Slowly, Samuel emerged from the pile for a 31-yard gain to the Middle 40.

As Turner said, that got the Panthers into range. On the next play, sophomore tight end Jonnu Smith caught the Hail Mary that ended the first half with FIU down only 21-17.

This and that

During a first half in which he returned a kickoff 59 yards and a punt 30 yards, redshirt junior Richard Leonard moved past Lionell Singleton (2004-07) into second place in career return yards in FIU history with 2,158 yards.

Leonard would need another spectacular season to catch No.1: T.Y. Hilton’s 3,469 yards gained from 2008-11.

Freshman quarterback Alex McGough’s 14 touchdown passes puts him in a tie for third on the single-season FIU list, tied with Wes Carroll in 2011, PhD earner Paul McCall in 2009 and Jamie Burke in 2002. McCall’s 15 in 2008 and Carroll’s 16 in 2010 are the top two.

McGough is already tied for fourth with Burke and 2012-13 starter Jake Medlock on the career touchdown pass list.

▪ Greg Norman on the back nine on Sunday in majors. Larry Holmes in the seventh round. Middle Tennessee State in the third quarter.

The 10-yard run by Jeremiah Bryson broke Middle Tennessee State’s streak of four games without a third-quarter point. That stretch took the Blue Raiders back to a Sept.26 victory against Old Dominion.

FIU still outscored Middle 21-7 in the third quarter Saturday, turning a 21-17 halftime deficit into a 38-28 lead.

▪ In the third quarter, FIU Stadium’s play clocks malfunctioned to the point that officials announced they would be turned off and time would be kept on the field. The play clocks seemed to be back in use by the end of the quarter.

▪ FIU freshman linebacker Andrew Wint returned after missing three games with a right knee injury. He started and had four tackles. He was credited with a forced fumble when Middle running back Jordan Parker bobbled the ball on the FIU 1-yard line while staring at Wint. That’s the fumble that McKinnon recovered in the end zone.

▪ FIU’s Senior Day captains were fifth-year senior wide receiver Glenn Coleman, senior offensive lineman Byron Pinkston, sophomore linebacker De’Shawn Hazziez and junior defensive end Michael Wakefield.

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