Team focusing on bowl berth, finishing season strong

Photo by Kristi Camara

Photo by Kristi Camara

By: Jackson Wolek / Staff Writer

In a matter of 11 days, the Panthers went from kicking a game winning field goal against co-defending conference champion from a year ago, Troy, to having the exact same happen the other way around at Western Kentucky. The kick versus the Trojans kept FIU’s hopes of repeating as Sun Belt champions alive, and the 34-yard field goal off the foot of WKU’s Casey Tinius killed it.

With no shot of obtaining first place in the conference, now that the team sits four wins behind Louisiana with just three SBC games to go, the focus has turned to finishing the season off strong and getting into a bowl game.

“The most important part is not even worrying about any of that stuff, just play better football,” said head coach Mario Cristobal. “We’re fighting hard and a lot of the games have come down to the last possession, hell this last one came down to the last play. It’s obvious, if we can get in rhythm and execute like we’re capable of executing, we can be a real good football team.”

The only time the Sun Belt had three teams make it to a bowl game in the same year was in 2010 with Troy, FIU and Middle Tennessee. Right now, FIU’s only opportunity of coming third in the conference is to win out the rest of the schedule and have WKU lose to North Texas and Troy so that both teams will be tied in third, but even then, WKU would hold the tie breaker.

“You win six games and you’re bowl eligible. We definitely feel that we’re still bowl eligible and that we’re a real good football team,” said tight end Jonathan Faucher.

The defense, which had been giving up over 20 points per game to opponents in seven out of eight games, gave up just 10 versus WKU in the loss on Saturday. However, the offense only managed three field goals and 180 yards of offense. The last time the offense generated such low numbers was against Florida in 2009 when only 189 yards were gained.

Although the defense gave up just one touchdown, WKU running back Bobby Rainey rushed for 155 yards on 28 carries and was flagged seven times.

“I thought at the end of one call on Isame [Faciane], that’s just playing hard football,” Cristobal said. “It’s a discretionary call and I’m in no way taking a shot at the official, they got to call the game as they see it.”

Faciane’s 15-yard penalty for a late hit out of bounds helped put the Hilltoppers, who were unsuccessful in the first three field goal attempts of the game, closer into field goal range to win the game.

“I told him to not worry about it, I don’t even worry about the play because he was playing as hard as he could and he was trying to stop that guy (Rainey), and he did everything he could so I could never take that away from him and I’m proud of him and the whole defense,” said senior defense back Jonathan Cyprien.

T.Y. TO SENIOR BOWL

According to FIUSports.com, receiver and  return specialist T.Y. Hilton was invited to the annual Under Armour Senior Bowl.

Hilton is the first player in FIU history to be invited to the game, which gives NFL prospects a chance to improve their stock for the NFL draft.

The Senior Bowl will take place on Jan. 28, 2012 at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Ala.

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