Liam Rooney | Sports Director
When the final pass from LA Tech sailed out of bounds, FIU head coach Mike MacIntyre rushed the field and embraced tight end Rivaldo Fairweather as the Panthers came back from double digits to beat the Bulldogs 42-34 in overtime.
The embrace represented the trust MacIntyre had in Fairweather, as the tight end secured four crucial catches on the game-tying drive in the final two minutes of regulation, despite only hauling in one catch prior to the drive.
“What he did tonight at the end there, and all the plays he made, it was spectacular,” MacIntyre said postgame. “I love seeing him coming around with his big smile, he just uplifts me, and he’s a heck of a player.”
Coming off a 1-16 record in the last two seasons, the Panthers are back at .500, sitting at 4-4 (2-2 C-USA), picking up their first FBS home win since Old Dominion in 2019.
On the Bulldogs first drive of the game, freshman quarterback Landry Lyddy led LA Tech down the field and finished off a nine-play, 75-yard drive, with a one-yard rushing touchdown to put the visitors on the board early.
LA Tech jumped all over the Panthers to start the game, leading 17-7 early in the second quarter. Grayson James delivered a 34-yard touchdown to Kris Mitchell for the Panthers’ only score.
The turning point in the game came with ten minutes left in the second quarter, as James led a drive down the field that ended with a 16-yard touchdown pass to Jalen Bracey, cutting the deficit to three points.
On the ensuing kickoff, FIU pulled out a play from the practice fields, as kicker Lucas Matias sent a squib kick towards the Panther sideline that was recovered by defensive back Hezakiah Masses.
The kick set up the Panthers for their second score in 28 seconds, as James connected with Tyrese Chambers for an 18-yard touchdown and the 21-17 lead in the middle of the second quarter. A blocked field goal by FIU on the last play of the half kept the Panthers ahead by four heading into the break.
Entering the fourth quarter, FIU led 24-17, but quickly found themselves playing from behind as the clock ticked closer to zero. Five minutes remaining in regulation, the Panthers trailed 27-24.
With just over two minutes left in the game, LA Tech had a chance to seal the game with a first down, but Bulldog wideout Kyle Maxwell was met by Panthers defensive back Demetrius Hill, who drove the receiver down to the ground and held him short, forcing the visitors to punt and giving FIU a chance to work a two-minute drill.
“That gap blew up and I fit him and I made the tackle, and I knew it was the big time stop we needed to change the game,” Hill said. “I stepped in to make the hit, pushed him back; now my teams pumped, so now we go down and score and put points the board.”
James led FIU on a 13 play, 68-yard drive, resulting in a 28-yard Chase Gabriel field goal to tie the game. James tossed a few gutsy passes that showed the growing confidence he has in his game, connecting primarily with Fairweather.
“That’s the connection with me and Grayson, that’s my quarterback right there, man,” Fairweather said through a wide smile postgame. “I just had to wait for the right time, just stay patient and just trust the coaches, trust my team.”
“He’s a big mismatch, so to be able to have him out there makes it easier for me to just let him go make a play and obviously, you saw what he’s capable of,” James said.
After an opening score from LA Tech on the first possession of overtime, the Panthers answered with two touchdowns on their following two possessions. Following the second score, MacIntyre rolled the dice and went for two.
James pulled off his best Patrick Mahomes impression, dancing around and out of the pocket before flipping the ball to an open Kris Mitchell.
“You kind of got to go make a play, I mean, you either get it and get in or if you don’t you don’t, but you just don’t want to die with the football in your hands,” James said about his play on the two-point conversion.
With the game on the line, the Panther defense halted the Bulldogs and picked up their second double-digit overtime comeback win of the season, the first coming in the 38-37 victory against Bryant.
With four games remaining in the season, they have a chance to hit the all-important six-win mark and make a run at a bowl game.
“We’re excited about where we are,” MacIntyre said. “We got to work now to help dictate what could happen in the future.”
Before that dream can become a possibility, however, the Panthers travel to Denton, Texas, and battle the North Texas Mean Green, with kick off on Saturday, Nov. 5, at 4 p.m.