By: Jorge Corrales/Staff Writer
The FIU Panthers got out to an unexpectedly hot start Saturday afternoon but were ultimately defeated by Pittsburgh, 42-25.
The FIU Panthers forced a punt on Pittsburgh’s opening drive with some help from a Michael Wakefield sack. Pitt started their next drive on their own eight yard line. FIU cornerback Jeremiah McKinnon opened up the scoring with a sack and safety of Pitt QB Chad Voytik. The big play was also McKinnon’s first career sack.
“Coach called the right play at the right time,” said McKinnon. “It definitely gave us momentum. That carried over to the offense, they came back and scored.”
The FIU Panthers started on the Pitt 36 after a shanked free-kick by Pitt punter Ryan Winslow. Following a 33-yard reception by wide receiver TJ Lowder, freshman quarterback Alex McGough rushed it up the middle for a touchdown– the first rushing touchdown of McGough’s young career. The 3-yard run gave the hometown Panthers a 9-0 lead.
Following a James Conner fumble deep in FIU territory, McGough capped off another quick FIU drive with a 56-yard touchdown pass to Glenn Coleman. The FIU Panthers closed out the first quarter up 16-0.
That’s where the run ended for the FIU Panthers. Pitt rallied for 26 unanswered points. They rode the back of star running back James Conner who entered Saturday’s game with 367 rushing yards; third most in the FBS. He had 177 more against the FIU Panthers, putting him at 544 yards after three games. His numbers are the most yards by a Pitt running back through the first three games of the season– a record formerly held by Tony Dorsett.
After 3 quarters, the visiting Panthers led the hometown Panthers 26-16.
The FIU Panthers tried to claw their way back in the fourth when quarterback E.J. Hilliard led FIU to a field goal on the opening drive of the quarter. The kick made it a one possession game.
But following a pinned Pitt punt inside the FIU two-yard line, Hilliard was called for intentional grounding in the end-zone. By rule, Pitt was awarded a safety. The two teams combined for three safeties on the afternoon.
Conner put the final daggers in the game with two late touchdown runs– a 41-yard rush and a six-yard rush.
Again, the Panthers stuck to the two-QB system they have been using all season. Starter Alex McGough finished the game 15-of-30 for 224 yards and 2 touchdowns. Hilliard entered the game in spots but was less than stellar. He finished 2-of-5 for 12 yards; he also had 31 yards on the ground.
“We came into this game saying we were gonna play both guys,” said Head Coach Ron Turner. “E.J. knew he was coming in at some point so we put him in late in the first half. We’ll look at these guys and evaluate them.”
Despite giving up 41 points, the FIU defense kept them in the game early. They forced two Conner fumbles deep in FIU territory which stopped drives and helped the offense score.
Denzell Perine added to his team-leading 3.5 sacks with another half a sack early in the third quarter.
Cornerback Wilkenson Myrtil notched his first career interception that stopped a Pitt drive late in the first half.
The game was also delayed 47 minutes in the third quarter due to lightning in the area. The stands were cleared out for about 30 minutes and the players then got a short warm-up period.
The FIU Panthers will close out a four-game homestand next week against the Louisville Cardinals. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m. at “The Cage”.
Photo by Brian Trujillo/ The Beacon