The Panthers (4-2, 2-0 in Conference USA) edged Middle Tennessee in a thrilling 24-21 victory on Saturday night. Here are a few takeaways.
A night to remember
The FIU community gathered at Riccardo Silva Stadium to watch the Panthers battle the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders for sole possession of first place in the East Division of Conference USA (C-USA). It was a high-energy affair: alumni returning for homecoming joined the home crowd to watch a fiercely competitive matchup.
“I went here. I’m from the area. I’m proud of the area. I have a little platform and I like to represent. I think you should be proud of where you went to school,” said Billy Gil, a track and field alumnus and producer on ESPN’s Miami-based radio show, The Dan LeBatard Show with Stugotz, who was in the stands cheering on the Panthers.
The whole game was highly contested. Sophomore kicker Jose Borregales’ 44-yard field goal was the only score of the first quarter. Blue Raiders quarterback Brent Stockstill captained a 92-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter and FIU junior quarterback James Morgan responded with a 77-yard touchdown drive of his own. MTSU quarterback Asher O’Hara took over for Stockstill after he was injured and scored on an 11-yard touchdown run.
Borregales nailed a program-record 53-yard field goal to close a 14-13 Blue Raiders lead going into halftime.
“All I’m looking for is a chance to get a big kick. I hit a 50-plus yarder before every practice to warm up,” Borregales said.
The Panthers rallied in the second half. Down 21-16, Morgan marched the offense down the field in the fourth quarter and tossed a 23-yard touchdown to CJ Worton. The Panthers opted for the two-point conversion and Morgan flipped the ball to junior wide receiver Maurice Alexander. The former quarterback dropped back to pass and looked Morgan’s way, then threw a strike under pressure to junior wide receiver Tony Gaiter IV to put the Panthers up three.
“That was interesting because the ball was supposed to go to me. The old quarterback throw-back. And of course they cover it, right? He literally just made a play,” Morgan said.
Junior defensive back Olin Cushion III sealed the win. With Middle Tennessee deep in FIU territory and under a minute to play, he made a leaping interception to end the game.
“When I got up, I was just being rushed by the team. It was my first college interception and it just felt great. When I got up and heard the crowd it just felt so good. That was the biggest moment of my football career right there,” Cushion said.
FIU’s air attack is grooving
James Morgan has 14 touchdowns through six games, the most by any quarterback in program history through that span. For his second straight 300-yard passing outing, he was given a Manning Award Stars of the Week honor — a performance award named after the famous football family. He was also named to the Davey O’Brian “Great 8” list, a weekly honor that recognizes excellent college quarterbacking.
Morgan himself defers the credit to his pass-catchers.
“I’m getting more comfortable every week. I have all these accolades or whatever—how about all the plays these guys are making? I can’t tell you how nice it is when you’re a quarterback and you see CJ Worton and he’s burned his guy and he has a five-yard lead and I can just put it in his general area and he’ll come down with it,” Morgan said.
Worton has accumulated 459 yards and five touchdowns through six games. Morgan also targeted sophomore Bryce Singleton plenty on Saturday. He led all wide receivers with 81 yards on eight receptions.
As it stands now, FIU’s offense ranks second in points per game in C-USA (35.8) and is first in yards per passing attempt (9.3).
An update on Jones and Miller
Senior running back and freshman offensive lineman Mershawn Miller are continuing to recover after being victims of a shooting in Opa-locka last month. According to head coach Butch Davis, Jones is the more likely of the two to return this season.
“Anthony has been running a lot, doing some individual drills. He’s yet to put on a uniform or anything. You knock on wood and you hope we’ll see him before the season is over,” Davis said.
FIU will host Rice University (1-6, 0-3 in C-USA) on Oct. 20. The Owls are in last place in C-USA’s West Division and are coming off of a 42-0 defeat to the University of Alabama at Birmingham.