FIU defeats UMass, 63-24

Junior wide receiver Maurice Alexander became the first FIU player to convert a punt return and a reception into touchdowns in the same game.

The football team (2-1, 1-0 in Conference USA) set and tied several records on their way to a 63-24 win over the University of Massachusetts Amherst Minutemen. Here are a few takeaways from Saturday night’s victory at Riccardo Silva Stadium.

The backfield leads the way

Junior running back Shawndarrius Phillips had a career night. He totalled 117 yards on the ground and added two rushing touchdowns. Senior Napoleon Maxwell also gained 101 yards and two rushing scores. Saturday’s game marked FIU’s first 100-yard rushing effort from two players since its win over the same opponent last year.

On his first touchdown, Phillips raised a finger toward the offices overlooking the stands. That’s where it’s rumored senior Anthony Jones, who is recovering from a gunshot he suffered last week, was watching the game. Maxwell also saluted the offices after punching in a score to put the Panthers up 13-0.

“We broke them down, just like we were supposed to,” said Phillips. “We were playing fast. We knew we had to keep their defense on the field. We practiced fast this week and prepared for it.”

Graduate transfer quarterback James Morgan played well, too. He was 16 for 23 on passing attempts with two touchdowns and an interception.

“Every game that he has played, he has gotten better. He is much better at getting out of bad plays,” said head coach Butch Davis.

A night for the record books

The team tied a couple of its total offensive records en route to their 63-24 win. They scored 43 points in the first half, on par with their previous record for points in a first half (University of Texas at El Paso, 2015). FIU also tied its all-time point total, which they established against the Minutemen last year.

Individuals set personal records, too. In addition to Phillips’ career night, freshman tight end Sterling Palmer caught his first touchdown as a Panther. Junior wide receiver Maurice Alexander became the first FIU player to convert a punt return and a reception into touchdowns in the same game.

Alexander’s 69-yard return—where he evaded a crowded UMass coverage before breaking away—was the highlight of the night.

“Before they punted the ball, I didn’t see anybody to the right. I made the first move and then I was gone,” said Alexander.

FIU had an opportunity to break its total points record on their last possession down by UMass’ goalline, but elected to take a knee and run out the clock instead.

A Miami football affair ahead

Next up for FIU is a long-anticipated game against the University of Miami at Hard Rock Stadium on Sept. 22. The game is set for 3:30 p.m. and will air on ESPN2.

Phillips says the team hasn’t been looking ahead to the game and has focused its attention on their other opponents—until now.

“We have a saying in our meeting rooms called ‘play the play,’ and ‘focus where your feet are,’” said Phillips.

“We have an opportunity to showcase this program. We’re a new program now, and we’re going to show them.”