By Joel Delgado ’12, MS ’17
With seven days left until FIU football takes on Temple in the Gasparilla Bowl, let’s rewind the clock back seven years and revisit the biggest game in Panther football history.
In 2010, the Panthers – led by Head Coach Mario Cristobal and future NFL star T.Y. Hilton – won the Sun Belt Conference championship and compiled a 6-6 record to become bowl eligible for the first time in school history. FIU received an invite to play in the Little Caesers Pizza Bowl the day after Christmas against the Toledo Rockets in Detroit.
FIU News dug into the video archives and, for the first time, fans can watch complete FIU highlights from the Panthers’ 34-32 victory in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl in the video above.
Ford Field, home of the NFL’s Detroit Lions, was the site for the Panthers’ first bowl game and a small but spirited contingent of FIU fans flew up to Michigan for the game.
Playing far from home, the Panthers got off to a rough start and fell behind 21-7 at halftime. A Toledo field goal early in the third quarter put the Panthers behind by 17 points, their largest deficit of the night.
That’s when T.Y. did what T.Y. does best.
With the Panthers in desperate need of a spark, Hilton received the ensuing kickoff and used his blistering speed to race past several Toledo defenders for an 89-yard touchdown return.
In the fourth quarter, with 7:34 remaining in the game, Hilton caught a short pass from quarterback Wesley Carroll and leaped into the end zone for another touchdown to give FIU its first lead of the game at 28-24.
FIU kicker Jack Griffin’s field goal with 3:18 remaining put the Panthers up by a touchdown and finished an impressive run of 24 unanswered points for FIU.
Toledo answered with a touchdown with just over a minute left in the game. But instead of kicking the extra point to tie the game, the Rockets decided to go for the two-point conversion and succeeded, taking a 32-31 lead and striking a dagger into the Panthers’ comeback effort.
On fourth down and 17 on the final drive, the Panthers needed some late heroics to keep the drive – and their hopes of a victory – alive. That’s when FIU ran a hook and lateral play to T.Y. Hilton, who scampered down the sidelines and tiptoed his way to the first down marker.
The play was ruled a first down and is now known by Panther fans as the “Motor City Miracle.” For the university’s 50th anniversary celebration, FIU News published a second-by-second breakdown of the play.
Several plays later, the Panthers were in field goal range to set up a game-winning field goal for Griffin with 0:04 on the clock. The kick was up and went straight through the uprights as time expired, giving the Panthers a thrilling 34-32 victory in front of a national audience on ESPN.
The rest is history.
Now the Panthers, led by first year Head Coach Butch Davis, hope to make some more history in St. Petersburg on Thursday, Dec. 21. A victory against the Temple Owls would give FIU a new record for wins in a season (9) and the program’s second bowl win.
For more information about the Gasparilla Bowl and ticket packages for FIU fans who want to make the trip, go to FIU Bowl Central.