Panthers earn first win in rout of Wagner Seahawks

By Jorge Corrales/Staff Writer

The FIU Panthers defeated the Wagner Seahawks 34-3 on Saturday night at Ocean Bank Field for their first win of the season.

The Panthers controlled a sloppy game that was dominated by turnovers. Both teams combined for 9 total turnovers, and the Seahawks’ six turnovers was tied for the most ever by an FIU opponent.

FIU came out strong against the Seahawks, starting off with the opening drive which took only three plays and spanned 53 yards. It ended with a 41-yard touchdown pass from McGough to tight end Jonnu Smith. Smith caught the short pass from McGough on third down and turned it up the sideline for the first score of the game.

“That first score was huge,” said McGough. “It was a great play by Jonnu basically catching a zero yard pass and taking it however many yards he took it. That was a big momentum boost for us after only scoring one touchdown last week and then being able to score in the first two minutes tonight.”

The Panthers did not wait long to add to their lead. On the ensuing Wagner possession, cornerback Richard Leonard intercepted Wagner Quarterback Brian Gehring and took it back 60 yards to the house. Leonard set a school record last week with 148 return yards against Bethune-Cookman and had another solid game this week with a couple of broken-up passes on top of that pick six. FIU scored their first 14 points while only running three offensive plays.

McGough looked strong in his first collegiate start; going 9-of-18 for 60 yards and 2 TDs. He narrowly missed another long touchdown on a deep ball that was dropped by WR Dennis Turner.

The Panthers used a two quarterback system with McGough splitting the snaps with junior E.J. Hilliard. Hilliard lost his starting job after struggling early against Bethune-Cookman last week, but made an improvement against Wagner. Hilliard was 14-of-15 for 169 yards.

When asked if he planned to keep the two quarterback system, Head Coach Ron Turner said, “I don’t see why not. I thought both of them stepped in and did some really good things. We’ve got a lot of confidence in both guys.”

Freshman running back Alex Gardner was outstanding in his second game as a Panther. Gardner rushed for 141 yards on 15 carries. His 141 yards on the ground broke the schools freshman record of 134 yards set by Silas Spearman in last year’s victory against Southern Mississippi. Gardner gained the bulk of his yards on a 62-yard rush in the second quarter. He was stopped just short of the goal-line but the Panthers were able to punch it in on a pass from McGough to tight end Cory White. It was White’s first touchdown reception as a member of the Panthers.

“It feels great,” said Gardner when asked about breaking the freshman single-game rushing record. “The offensive line put me in a great position and so did the coaches with the play calls. That was one of my goals coming into this year; breaking the freshman rushing record in a game. I should’ve scored on that long run but I didn’t get in. That one is on me.”

FIU went into the half leading 27-3 and put up one more touchdown on a late 4-yard run by running back Anthon Samuels.

Tight end Jonnu Smith led the Panthers through the air. Smith had 9 catches for 127 yards. It was his first 100-yard receiving game as a Panther.

“I was just playing ball. That’s the results you get when you go out there and play hard.” said Smith.

The Seahawks struggled to get anything going on offense. Quarterback Brian Gehring threw for 65 yards and two interceptions. Back-up Chris Andrews threw for 55 yards, all of those coming on a deep ball to wide receiver Chris Foster. On the next play, Foster and FIU cornerback Randy Harvey were involved in an on-field altercation. Punches were thrown and both players were ejected.

“We will not tolerate that,” said Turner. “We will not tolerate guys throwing punches. If guys do that, they will not play. I don’t care who it is. It doesn’t matter if he threw the first punch, which he didn’t. It doesn’t matter if he retaliates, which he did.”

Saturday, the Panthers will host the Pittsburgh Panthers. Gametime is set for 12 p m.

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