Panthers win Shula Bowl XI

The Shula Bowl trophy stays in Miami after a 34-24 win against Florida Atlantic at FAU Stadium in Boca Raton, Fla. FIU quarterback Jake Medlock was named MVP along with William Dukes of FAU.

Medlock completed 17 of 28 passes for 264 yards and two scores. He also added 36 yards on the ground on 12 attempts. Kedrick Rhodes led the Panthers in rushing with 99 yards on 18 carries and a one-yard score. Jacob Younger led all FIU receivers with 94 yards.

The FIU defense held FAU to -12 yards rushing, which is a new FIU record. Johnathan Cyprien led the defense with eight tackles, a forced fumble and a 35-yard interception return. Tourek Williams added 1.5 sacks and three tackles for loss.

The Panthers started out strong by forcing the Owls to punt on their first drive of the game. Backed up at their own 1, the Panthers escaped a third-and-long when Medlock hit Younger in stride for a 46-yard gain. The play set up a 99-yard drive that was capped off by a 38-yard touchdown pass to Willis Wright to give FIU an early 7-0 lead.

After the Owls answered with a 17-yard touchdown to tie the game early in the second quarter, the Panthers used a bit of trickeration as offensive lineman Rupert Bryan Jr. scored his first-career touchdown on a five-yard touchdown run. Medlock dropped back and lateraled the ball to a wide open Bryan in the flat for his first-career score. Jack Griffin’s extra point gave FIU its second lead of the game, 14-7.

FAU added a field goal with 48 seconds left in the half to send the Panthers to the locker room with a 14-10 lead.

After a 35-minute lightning delay at the 12:17 mark in the third quarter both FIU and FAU traded punts before FAU took the lead, 17-14, at the 6:43 mark in the third quarter. The Owls used a Wildcat run up the middle from the one-yard line to take the lead.

On the ensuing kickoff, FIU return specialist Richard Leonard blew by the top-ranked kickoff coverage team in the Sun Belt for an FIU record 100-yard scamper to pay dirt for the score. A missed extra point kept the FIU lead to 20-17 after the return touchdown.

The Panthers added to their lead, 27-17, at the 39-second mark in the third quarter on a 15-yard touchdown pass from Medlock to Wayne Times.

FAU responded with a 60-yard touchdown pass to cut the FIU lead to 27-24 early in the fourth quarter. Not to be outdone, the Panthers tacked on another touchdown, this time on a one-yard Rhodes run with 10:45 left in the game. The touchdown was set up by a nice 31-yard run from Rhodes two plays earlier. The score gave FIU a 34-24 advantage.

Midway through the fourth quarter, Cyprien came up with a big interception when he picked off a Graham Wilbert pass near the endzone and advanced the ball 35 yards to prevent the Owls from getting back in the game. The interception was the first for Wilbert in his last 250 pass attempts. FIU would hold steadfast on defense the rest of the way to win Shula Bowl XI, 34-24.

The Panthers (3-8, 2-5 SBC) will return to the gridiron Saturday, Nov. 24, when they take on the ULM Warhawks in the final game of the season on Alfonso Field at FIU Stadium. Game time is set for 6 p.m.

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