Photo by Jabin E. Botford
Jackson Wolek / Staff Writer
The conference match-up featuring the Sun Belt second and third best defenses proved to be just that, as FIU lost their third conference game to Western Kentucky in Bowling Green in the low scoring affair that came down to a last second score from WKU.
Jack Griffin won the battle of field goal kickers by going three for three with 40, 34 and 43-yard kicks, but the WKU kickers had the last laugh as Casey Tinius kicked in the game winning field goal with four seconds left to give the Hilltoppers their fifth straight win with a score of 10-9.
The Panthers (5-4,2-3 SBC) are now completely out of contention for winning Sun Belt title outright with the heartbreaking loss.
“Painful, painful. I feel real bad for our guys,” head coach Mario Cristobal said. “It’s a tough one to take and we have a long bus ride home to think about things we can do better.”
In the first quarter, FIU squandered multiple opportunities on the Hilltopper side of the field. The first drive, T.Y Hilton dropped a third down pass that would have picked up a first down, but instead he made the Panthers settle for a 40-yard field goal from Jack Griffin.
On the next possession, Wesley Carroll threw his fourth interception in four games at the WKU two-yard line, picked off by defensive back Kareem Peterson.
The Hilltoppers took advantage of the turnover and marched the ball up the field to the FIU two-yard line and ran in it with a touchdown run from fullback Kadeem Jones, puttimg them up 7-3 with 4:54 remaining in the first quarter.
The last drive for the Panthers in the first quarter started at the WKU 38-yard line after a 58-yard kickoff return from Hilton. But for the third straight time, the offense could not make it into the end zone and settled for Griffin’s second field goal of the game. The 34-yarder gave FIU a 7-6 lead going into the second quarter.
In the second quarter, both defenses held each other to no points, although the Hilltoppers had chances to make two field goals that never made it past the Panther defense. The first attempt resulted in a blocked 46-yard field goal that Richard Leonard picked up and took 21 yards the other way.
The second came on the last play of the half, after FIU gave Western Kentucky multiple second chances off penalties. A five-yard offside penalty on Greg Hickman on third and two brought up a WKU first down, and then when FIU made a third down stop again, James Jones got called for a personal foul at the end of the play that resulted in another Hilltopper first down.
“We just have to be more poised and composed as a defense and limit the penalties,” said linebacker Winston Fraser. “It’s just stupid penalties.”
However, a high snap on a field attempt from WKU, with six seconds to go, halted the Hilltoppers from taking the lead going into halftime and kept FIU just a point behind going into the second half.
The third quarter stayed on the same course as the second with defense being the key for both teams, as well as more field goals. Western Kentucky had a chance at their third field goal of the game, but it got blocked for the second time,and left the Hilltoppers with zero points of the board.
Griffin managed to make a 43-yard field goal at the beginning of the fourth quarter to give FIU the lead for the first time in the game.
The Panther defense held strong for all of the last quarter, until it mattered most.
Things started to come apart with 1:49 to go in regulation, when Carroll took a sack at his own five-yard line on third and three to force a punt by FIU and allowed WKU to start the last drive of the game at midfield, with just a field goal needed to win the game.
“It was a mistake and we just have to get better,” said Carroll on the sack.
After a 12-yard pass to Bobby Rainey, plus a crucial 15-yard late hit penalty on Isame Faciane, WKU got to the FIU 26-yard line with one minute left and slowed down the clock for the game winning field goal that went in by new kicker Casey Tinius.
“At the end of the day, as a defense we know what we’re coached to do and we should have prevailed on that last drive,” Fraser said. “We could have been in the redzone, at the end of the day we still got to finish the game and we didn’t make it happen.”