Panthers Fall to Middle Tennessee at Homecoming, Begin Season 0-2

FIU Running Back Shaun Peterson Jr rushing to the end zone against Middle Tennessee. Photo by: FIU Athletics

By: Richard Gibson and Jared Park / Staff writers 

The FIU Panthers football team fell in a Conference USA shootout against the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders in their Homecoming game on Saturday, October 10th.

Middle Tennessee won by a score of 31-28. At times, the offenses for both schools were stagnant. FIU’s offense struggled with finding a key quarterback throughout the game and even though the defense forced turnovers, it couldn’t stop Middle Tennessee’s passing game in the second half.

Coming off a 36-34 loss to Liberty, FIU had to secure a win against Middle Tennessee to get back on track. With two games canceled due to COVID, earning enough wins to head to another bowl game is harder for the Panthers. 

The defense for FIU made their presence known early, as cornerback Josh Turner picked off the Blue Raiders on their first drive. A handoff from quarterback Kaylan Wiggins to running back Shaun Peterson Jr. secured the first touchdown for FIU, leading 7-0 early in the first quarter.

Middle Tennessee came into this game with an 0-4 record, mainly due to their struggles on offense. Despite a drive down the field, a second turnover by the Blue Raiders kept the game scoreless. This time, it was an interception by defensive back Rishard Dames.

The next drive for the Blue Raiders was successful. Despite an excellent rush defense by FIU, too many third-down conversions for Middle Tennessee kept them on the field. They eventually scored their first touchdown, evening the game at 7 each.

FIU’s offense, which swapped quarterbacks from Wiggins to Stone Norton, struggled with the offense. The Blue Raiders fared much better on offense, driving down the field and scoring another touchdown to take the lead, 14-7. 

Coming off a targeting call on Middle Tennessee, FIU had the momentum to give. FIU quarterback Max Bortenschlager replaced Norton and handed the ball off to Peterson, who rushed for a 63-yard touchdown tying the game at 14 each.

Despite another long drive by Middle Tennessee’s offense, the FIU defense held up and forced a field goal by the Blue Raiders. At halftime, Middle Tennessee led with a score of 17-14.

Despite Wiggins kicking things off for FIU, the offense was sluggish to begin the second half. However, a defensive stop forced Middle Tennessee to punt from their own end zone, putting FIU at a great spot. After a handful of first downs, FIU wide receiver Nate Jefferson rushed it in to take back the lead, 21-17.

Middle Tennessee dealt with three-and-outs all day on offense, but they crafted a drive that resulted in a touchdown to take back the lead, 24-21. FIU answered with a 65-yard rushing touchdown from running back D’vonte Price, taking the lead back for the Panthers, 28-24. 

In the fourth quarter, both teams’ offenses struggled to progress down the field. Four minutes before the end of the game, Middle Tennessee drove the ball into FIU territory and scored with only a minute to go, giving the Blue Raiders a 31-28 lead. 

Wiggins led FIU on their last chance to score. While the offense made progress down the field, a costly interception by Wiggins sealed the game for Middle Tennessee, who won by a score of 31-28. 

Out of all quarterbacks, Wiggins saw the most time on the field. He went for five completions on 15 attempts, 37 yards, and a single interception. 

When asked about his decision to rely on Wiggins late in the game, head coach Butch Davis said he was the only quarterback who didn’t test positive for COVID-19 and could practice.

“The other two didn’t practice,” Davis said. “We had 17 players who tested false positive. The only one who got a chance to practice this week was Kaylan, he took the majority of the reps.”

Running back Peterson led FIU in rushing- 117 yards from 15 carries, and two touchdowns. Price also earned 112 yards and another one of FIU’s touchdowns. 

Despite the loss, Price is still hopeful the Panthers can rebound from this loss.

“We gotta step up and figure something out that’s going to get us more wins in the season,” Price said in a press conference held via zoom after the game. “We gotta keep our heads up, we can’t let this 0-2 record get to us”

FIU’s receiving was lackluster, as no receiver went over 20 passing yards. Despite being a receiver, Jefferson scored a rushing touchdown.

Overall, Middle Tennessee led both teams in first downs, total yards, and time of possession. FIU improved with their penalties, committing one less than the Blue Raiders. They also forced two turnovers, though only converted one of them into points.

FIU will head to Charlotte, North Carolina to take on the 49ers on Saturday, October 17th at 8 p.m. FIU will then head back to the Riccardo Silva Stadium for two straight weeks to take on Jacksonville State and Marshall. FIU will need to win six of their remaining seven games to become bowl eligible. 

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