Tampa Bay Sports Day

FIU: Panthers Turn in 17-10 Win Over Alcorn; Get Davis His First Win

FIU’S ALEX GARDNER SETS UP THE GAME-WINNING TOUCHDOWN IN THE FOURTH QUARTER WITH FIVE OF HIS 102 YARDS. (PHOTO BY MARIO TERRANA)

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – With the arrival of Hurricane Irma looming and potentially making landfall in South Florida, and with the FIU football team’s game being moved from its home field, Riccardo Silva Stadium, to Birmingham, Alabama, the Panthers finally had the opportunity to return to a bit of normalcy, albeit for just a few hours.

FIU returned to the gridiron on Friday, for what should have been its home-opener on Saturday, and handed upset-minded Alcorn State University a hard-fought 17-10 loss at historic Legion Field.

The win improves the Panthers to 1-1 on the year, while the Braves level at 1-1. The victory was also the first for Butch Davis as head coach at FIU.

Senior quarterback Alex McGough was 21-of-33, with no interceptions for 328 yards, his fourth 300-yard plus passing game of his career, and his second best, behind his 390-yard performance against Old Dominion on Oct. 24, 2015

In what was an already impressive outing, McGough saved his best for last, leading the Panthers on a game-winning seven-play, 80-yard drive.

After Alcorn tied the game at 10 apiece on a 49-yard field goal, the senior from Tampa, started the drive getting 40 of those yards on a connection to Julian Williams, who found a seam down the middle to the Alcorn 40-yard line.

The Braves then got a healthy dose of Alex Gardner, who carried the ball four-straight times for a total of 27 yards, including the run that set up the game-winner from the one-yard line. McGough took the ball over the goal line on a quarterback sneak.

The game started out slowly for both teams, but after a scoreless first quarter, Gardner, the Panthers’ all-time rushing leader, scored his first touchdown of the year, capping an 11-play, 72-yard drive with a three-yard run just one-minute into the second quarter. Gardner finished the game with 102 yards on 20 carries, his 10th 100-yard game of his career.

After a stop of Alcorn on the Braves next drive, the Panthers seemed poised to get in the end zone again, taking the ball 80 yards in seven plays and using better than nine minutes of the clock. However a 32-yard pass from McGough to Thomas Owens that got the ball to the two-yard line, was fumbled into the end zone by Owens for a touchback, giving the ball back to Alcorn at the 20-yard line.

The Braves proceeded to use their own 80-yard drive to level the score at seven-all when Lenorris Footman found Tavares Johnson Jr. with 3:04 left in the half. The score was set up by a 47-yard pass play, on the third play of the drive, from Footman to Norlando Veals getting the Braves to the FIU 30-yard line from their own 23.

Despite the Panthers dominating the time of possession in the first half, holding the ball for almost 12 minutes and recording 239 yards, 210 coming through the air, FIU and Alcorn went into the locker room at the break tied at seven.

Neither team could get anything going for most of the third quarter, until the Panthers put together a 75-yard drive lasting 4:50 and ended by a 23-yard Jose Borregales field goal with 16 seconds left in the quarter, making the score 10-7 FIU. The Panthers, who had the drive extended on a 14-yard pass to Julian Williams on third-and-five, had a chance to get six points on a pass from McGough to Tony Gaiter IV, but the pass was dropped in the end zone.

On the night, the FIU finished the game with 465 total yards, 328 of which came through the air. Williams was the prime target for McGough recording a career night with 129 yards on five receptions. Gaiter IV also finished with a career-best 64 yards receiving on five catches.

The Panthers were cheered on by better than 100 fellow FIU student-athletes from eight sports programs that were also relocated to Birmingham due to Irma. Up next for FIU is a trip to America’s Heartland, Bloomington, Indiana, to face the Indiana Hoosiers on Saturday, Sept. 16 at 3:30 p.m. ET.