Despite a strong showing by the FIU defense that kept the game within reach for most of the night, the Panthers fell short in a 28-3 loss to the Temple Owls on Dec. 21 in the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl.
Although the loss in St. Petersburg is a disappointing end to the season, the Panthers still have a lot to be proud of. FIU exceeded expectations in their first season under Head Coach Butch Davis, finishing with an 8-5 record and matching the record for wins in a single season set in 2011.
“I’m extremely proud of this football team regardless of the outcome tonight,” Davis said. “What these kids accomplished no one thought was remotely possible. To have the opportunity to win eight games, to qualify and get to a bowl game, was a remarkable accomplishment.”
Less than five minutes into the game, the Panthers were dealt a devastating blow when quarterback Alex McGough left the game with a broken collarbone, ending his collegiate career and throwing the FIU offense into a flux.
The FIU defense, in McGough’s absence, remained stringent during the first quarter, holding Temple scoreless and limiting the Owls to just 69 yards on offense.
But on the Owls’ first drive of the second quarter, quarterback Frank Nutile marched Temple down the field and scored on a four-yard touchdown run to put the Owls ahead 7-0.
Even though the offense struggled to gain traction in McGough’s absence, the Panthers only trailed by a touchdown at halftime.
“They completely kept us in the ball game,” Davis said of the defense. “We could just never get a situation offensively where we could finish drives.”
FIU quarterback Maurice Alexander, who took over for McGough after his injury, started to settle down and got into a rhythm early in the second half. With 3:12 remaining in the third quarter, FIU kicker Jose Borregales put FIU on the scoreboard with a field goal to slice into Temple’s lead.
But the Owls responded with a touchdown on the very next drive to put the Panthers in a deeper hole. Temple wide receiver Adonis Jennings made a 39-yard catch to set up a short rushing score to give the Owls a 14-3 lead at the end of the third quarter.
Temple delivered the final blow with a pair of touchdowns in the fourth quarter to put the game out of reach for the Panthers.
The loss brings the Panthers’ all-time bowl record to 1-2, with both bowl losses occurring in Tropicana Field (FIU lost the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl here in 2011).
Still, the Panthers will enter the offseason with a lot to look forward to in 2018. A day before the Gasparilla Bowl, the Panthers signed one of the best recruiting classes in program history.
Even though this season just ended, it’s never too early to mark your calendars for football season. The Panthers will kick off the next season at home against the Indiana Hoosiers in early September 2018.