Richard Gibson/Staff Writer
FIU lost their fifth consecutive game of the season today against the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers by a score of 38-21.
Now, FIU has an 0-5 record, and getting into a bowl game is next to impossible. They’re the only team in Conference USA who hasn’t won a game this season.
In the first half of the game, FIU led in terms of offense, defense, and special teams, earning a score of 13-10. In the second half, however, they fell flat on their helmets. They became sloppy with penalties and turnovers, and the Hilltoppers were efficient enough to steal the lead and never gave it back.
On the Hilltopper’s first offensive drive, the Panther’s defense held them in their own red zone, forcing WKU to punt. Under Quarterback Max Bortenshlager, FIU wasted no time getting points on the board. A 28-yard pass from Bortenschlager to Wide Receiver JJ Holloman gave the Panthers an early 7-0 lead.
Both team’s offenses struggled to progress down the field for a while, keeping FIU’s 7-0 lead into the second quarter. However, Western Kentucky began to find offensive rhythm, driving down the field but settling for a field goal to shorten FIU’s lead to 7-3.
The Panthers wasted no time responding. On the ensuing kickoff, Running Back EJ Wilson Jr went the distance, running for 100 yards and scoring FIU’s second touchdown of the day, placing the score at 13-3. The extra point attempt by Kicker Chase Gabriel didn’t yield any extra points.
The Hilltoppers eventually found momentum on offense and drove down the field. In a three-minute drive that only consisted of eight plays, Western Kentucky rushed for their first touchdown to shorten FIU’s lead to 13-10 and took the game to halftime.
Six minutes into the third quarter, FIU’s offense began to drive down the field. However, a fumble by Bortenschlager was recovered by Western Kentucky and turned into a touchdown, giving them a 17-13 lead.
Immediately after that, Bortenschlager threw an interception that also resulted in a WKU touchdown, extending the score to 24-13. In eight minutes of work, the Hilltoppers scored 21 unanswered points to turn the game around. FIU had led the first half of the game and was now facing a double-digit deficit.
After some failed attempts at offense in the third quarter, FIU swapped in quarterback Stone Norton. On his first drive, the Panthers rushed down the field, but a failed fourth-down conversion took away any signs of life. Right afterward, Western Kentucky scored a rushing touchdown, extending their lead to 31-13 in the fourth quarter.
Under Norton, the Panthers failed two more fourth-down conversions on their two offensive drives, killing time and scoring no points. Meanwhile, the Hilltoppers scored another touchdown in only four plays, increasing their score to 38-13.
With nine minutes left in the game, the Panthers put in quarterback Kaylan Wiggins, who played for the first time since the second game of the season against Middle Tennessee. Wiggins drove down and scored a rushing touchdown. WKU’s lead was cut to 38-21 with less than a minute to go, and that score remained for the rest of the game.
Bortenschlager led all FIU quarterbacks with eight catches, 106 yards, a passing touchdown, and an interception. Wiggins was only in one offensive drive but managed five catches, 39 yards, and a rushing touchdown. Running Back D’Vonte Price rushed for 24 carries and 100 yards.
FIU edged WKU in first downs, passing yards, time of possession, and committed fewer penalties. However, the Hilltoppers earned more rushing yards and forced two turnovers, both of which were converted to touchdowns that gave them their lead.
FIU will head back to the Riccardo Silva Stadium to face off against the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs on Saturday, November 28th at noon. After that, the Panthers will head to Charlotte to take on the 49ers on December 5th.