By: Jackson Wolek / Staff Writer
Despite having four turnovers in regulation, the Panthers were able to force the game into overtime and end it on a 22-yard field from Jack Griffin in a thrilling overtime victory over the Trojans on Oct. 25, to keep hopes of another conference title alive.
In the 23-20 win, FIU relied on the play of sophomore running back Kedrick Rhodes as he rushed for a career-high 174 yards on 30 carries.
“Rushing for a career high makes it even better because we won the game,” said Rhodes. “If we hadn’t won the game, it wouldn’t really have meant anything. But we did so now we can celebrate.”
With the win, FIU (5-3, 2-2 SBC) still remains within striking distance of catching the number one team in the Sun Belt, Arkansas State (5-2, 3-0 SBC), for first place with four conference games remaining.
“The conference is so crazy and you don’t know what’s going to happen,” head coach Mario Cristobal said. “Our team is starting to understand more and more that all these games are going to come down to the fourth quarter.”
Penalties killed the Panther offense throughout the first half, as the offensive line got flagged five times for 35 yards from both right tackle Rupert Bryan (three for 20 yards) and left tackle Caylin Hauptmann (two for 15 yards) with three coming on third down plays.
“There was some talking in the locker room… it was a good thing we had those doors closed,” said Cristobal. “I was really frustrated by guys who really have worked at it hard and had tremendous success throughout the course of the week, but we came out in the second half and just played a much cleaner football game.”
Troy scored the first and only touchdown of the first half on a 14-yard run from running back D.J Taylor with 5:24 left in the first quarter. The Panthers could only answer back with a 38-yard field goal from Griffin, even after making it within 40 yards on the endzone four times.
Towards the end of the half, quarterback Wesley Carroll threw off his back foot and right into the hands of defensive back Dimitri Miles for his third consecutive game with an interception. However, Troy could not covert off the turnover and both teams headed to the locker room with the score 7-3 in favor of the Trojans.
At the start of the second half, the Panthers got things going on offense. On the first drive, Carroll found wide receiver Wayne Times open down the field, who took it 76 yards to the house to give the Panthers the lead for the first time in the game.
The next possession showed more of the same. With the ball on the Troy 43-yard line and facing 3rd and 21, Carroll got away from the Troy defenders and threw to Jacob Younger before he crossed the line of scrimmage who also took it to the endzone to give FIU a 17-7 lead.
The Trojans would strike back by going on a 13-0 run of their own that was started by running back Shawn Southward carrying the ball in for a three-yard touchdown with 2:21 in the third quarter, but Michael Taylor missed the extra point that would prove vital in the game. Less than a minute later, the Trojans scored again off a Glenn Coleman fumble that Tony Davis returned 30 yards for the score to give Troy lead once again.
Down by three going into the last quarter, the FIU defense held strong and allowed no points while tying the game up at 20-20 with 3:31 on the clock, forcing the first overtime game since Nov. 66, 2010 against ULM.
In overtime, Troy received the ball first with the Panther defense holding the Trojans to a 43-yard field goal that went wide left, leaving the door open for FIU to win the game with a field goal. Taking no chances, Carroll gave the ball to Rhodes six straight times to set up a 22-yard field goal from Griffin that sailed through the uprights for the win.
“That’s what we want: get the defense out there first and the offense will come off of us. That’s pretty much it,” defensive lineman Tourek Williams said after the game.