Panthers squeak by Akron in 41-38 win

Richard Leonard returned a punt 49 yards for a touchdown to help the Panthers in their 41-38 victory over Akron. (Alfonso Yec/The Beacon)

Caption: Richard Leonard returned a punt 49 yards for a touchdown to help the Panthers in their 41-38 victory over Akron.

Mario Busto/ Contributing Writer

Four hours and 20 minutes: that’s how long the football war between the Akron Zips and the FIU Panthers took to be decided. The result ended with a game-winning field goal by FIU kicker Jack Griffin that ended a back-and-forth shootout that finished in overtime 41-38. Panther fans were left  with many concerns about their team moving forward, especially after the defense has allowed 84 points in just two games.

Coming out of the gates, FIU drove the ball down the field and scored on running two perfectly executed back-to-back quarterback keepers by Jake Medlock for 73 yards. The first score came after only 33 seconds.

“We have worked on it all week,” said Medlock. “We knew that they were going to squeeze hard and we were going to move the tackles up on the back of them and there was going to be a huge hole and I just got to hit it, stay tight and take off.”

Medlock reached 100 yards before the end of the first quarter and ran for nearly more yards (178) than he threw for (209).

All signs in the first half of the game showed FIU emphasizing the running game. Medlock, Kedrick Rhodes, and Darian Mallary led the way combining for 49 rushes, 225 yards, and three touchdowns. The bulk of the yards were earned by Medlock who ran for a net total of 141 yards on 23 carries.

Following the two straight touchdown scores that had put Akron in the lead 20-7, Medlock put together a four play, 71-yard drive to end the half and swing the momentum back to the Panthers. The drive was punctuated with a touchdown pass to Jarius Williams who was left wide open in the end zone.

Near the end of the third quarter, Akron quarterback Dalton Williams scrambled out of the pocket, looking for a receiver, but instead found defensive lineman Greg Hickman, where FIU then took over at the Akron 14 yard line.

“Coach called the play that I love at the three technique and I got to jump back and play long like I did in high school,” said Hickman. “I was looking for the hit but when the quarterback threw the ball, he was not looking so I decided to get the ball and it just hit me right in the chest.”

The Panthers cashed in on the great field position when Mallary took a 5-yard hand off into the end zone to cut the lead to 20-14 for Akron.
Mallary ended the game with 14 rushes for 61 yards and two touchdowns.

“First half I was so anxious to get in,” said Mallary. “I just asked the coach why not give me a chance. Kedrick Rhodes was a little banged up, so I told Ked ‘I got your back.’”

The fourth quarter started with a quick touchdown by FIU, very similar to how the first quarter started. However, this time around the touchdown came in the form of a 49-yard punt return by Richard Leonard to extend the lead to 28-20.

After picking up a field goal, Akron took a 31-28 lead over the Panthers after a 21-yard touchdown pass to Jawon Chisholm and a successful two-point conversion pass completed to Dee Frieson.

Chisholm would end the day with 43 yards gained on 12 rushes along with two catches for touchdowns.

The Akron score gave the Zips a three-point lead, leaving the Panthers only 1:53 on the clock to take the ball down the field. The time would prove to be just enough for Medlock to drive the FIU offense down the field and allow Jack Griffin to nail his game-tying 30 yard field goal to send the game into overtime.

From there, FIU would finish off a hard-fought game with a game-winning 29-yard field goal by Jack Griffin.

“I was thinking about that and it was time for that streak to be over,” said Griffin. “I had to end it because I have been doing this for a while and I am pretty good at it. I knew I was going to make it.”

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