Florida International U

FIU Panthers lose season finale 63-7 to Western Kentucky

Florida International University running back Alex Gardner (1) tries to evade WKU linebackers Nick Holt (10) and T.J. McCollum as he carries the ball during a college football game Saturday Nov. 21, 2015 in Miami against Western Kentucky University. WKU beat FIU 63-7
Florida International University running back Alex Gardner (1) tries to evade WKU linebackers Nick Holt (10) and T.J. McCollum as he carries the ball during a college football game Saturday Nov. 21, 2015 in Miami against Western Kentucky University. WKU beat FIU 63-7 Miami Herald Staff

The lightning that Western Kentucky struck FIU with ended the Panthers’ bowl hopes with swift thoroughness. The lightning that struck near FIU Stadium ended the slaughter and the Panthers’ season a few minutes early.

Points and raindrops cascaded down Saturday afternoon. The rain, as it does with the just and the unjust, came down on both teams. The points rained mostly on the Western Kentucky side of the scoreboard, which read 63-7 when the game was called with 5:03 left after the second lightning delay.

Conference USA issued a statement after the game: “Today’s WKU at FIU football game has been terminated with 5:03 remaining in the fourth quarter due to severe inclement weather that could pose a safety hazard to players, coaches and fans in attendance. Per conference policy regarding severe weather, the game was terminated. It will not be resumed at any point and will be recorded as a final score of WKU 63, FIU 7.”

It was the most points allowed by FIU in a home game, the third-most in any game. The 56-point margin of defeat is FIU’s largest to a school outside the Power Five conferences and fourth-largest loss overall.

The Panthers finished the season 5-7, 3-5 in Conference USA. Needing one more win for bowl eligibility, they were outscored 115-7 over the last two games by Marshall and Western Kentucky, who will decide the C-USA East Division when they play Friday.

FIU sophomore quarterback Alex McGough tried to take the blame for the second consecutive blowout.

“I’ve got to play better as an individual,” McGough said. “As the quarterback plays better, the team plays better and we score some points. We’ve just got to put some drives together. We didn’t put any drives together the last two games. That’s my fault. I’m going to take the heat for that.”

McGough threw for only 95 yards on 17-of-30 passing, had a fumble returned to the 1-yard line and threw two interceptions, one of which Wonderful Terry returned 91 yards for the final, gutting touchdown. But, really, FIU did nothing well Saturday aside from recovering the three fumbles of bumbling Western Kentucky punt returner Kylen Towner and kick returner Anthony Davis.

Only an 18-yard run by sophomore running back Alex Gardner prevented a shutout. The fourth-quarter touchdown ended a scoreless run of 113 minutes 49 seconds that stretched back to FIU’s last home game, a 48-31 win against Charlotte.

“I thought we had a good week of practice, came out with a lot of energy,” FIU coach Ron Turner said. “It seemed like when they threw that flea-flicker for a touchdown on that first drive, it was like you put in a pin in a balloon. That deflated us a bit. We’ve got to bounce back from that. They’re a good team. We knew that going in. We just got worn down. The attrition factor and the injuries took a toll on us throughout the season. We just couldn’t hold up the last two weeks.”

The flea-flicker came 39 seconds into the game, sucking up the Panthers’ secondary long enough for Biletnikoff Award finalist Taywan Taylor to get behind it for a 73-yard touchdown.

The teams traded three-and-outs before Western Kentucky marched 80 yards to the first of D’Andre Ferby’s three TDs, a 1-yard TD plunge. Before the 20 fans in the student section could despair over that, Joe Brown picked off McGough, putting Western Kentucky on the FIU 18. Four plays later, Antwane Grant leaped into the end zone on a 5-yard bubble screen.

As the Hilltoppers took a 21-0 lead with 1:52 left in the first quarter, FIU had achieved just as many first downs as points.

Western Kentucky then marched 63 yards to another Ferby touchdown. The 28-0 score held until FIU put together its best drive of the first half — 11 plays, 57 yards — only for Terry to stop it with his interception return for a touchdown.

Hilltoppers quarterback Brandon Doughty had mundane statistics by his standards, going 16 of 21 for 224 yards and three TDs. Anthony Wales ran for 110 yards on just 16 carries.

David J. Neal: 305-376-3559, @DavidJNeal

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