Jaymz Cosme | Staff Writer
Sports got spooky on Oct. 31, 2002 and played their first Halloween football game in school history.
Coming in the program’s inaugural season, the FIU football team battled the Jacksonville Dolphins and haunted their night. This encounter was a testament to the resilience and budding talent of a young football program.
At the time, they were a member of the NCAA’s Division I-AA, which was renamed to the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) in 2006. The Panthers eventually moved to Division I-AA in 2004, which was also renamed to the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) in the same year.
Showing competency as a brand new team, they held a 3-5 record entering their matchup against the Dolphins. On a game-to-game basis, they displayed extreme variations in performance and won or lost games by a large margin.
In their wins, FIU had outscored their opponents by a total of 91 points, while getting outscored by a total of 110 points in their losses.
Losing their three games prior, they were ready to turn around their fortune against Jacksonville.
While going through their ups and downs, the Panthers had a trio of standout players who made an extreme impact on the game.
Sophomore running back Rashod Smith emerged as their lead running back, amassing 784 rushing yards on a six yards per carry average and nine touchdowns. Throughout the season, he proved to be the driving force behind their ground game which totaled over 1,500 rushing yards by the end of the season.
On the defensive front, freshman defensive back Nick Turnbull emerged as a leader and made a critical contribution. On the season, he totaled five interceptions, five pass breakups and 75 total tackles.
The Halloween matchup against Jacksonville was the night when these three stars aligned to haunt the Dolphins. FIU held a 13-6 lead at halftime, but it was the third quarter that witnessed an explosive performance.
Within three minutes, the Panthers scored two significant plays – a 69-yard passing touchdown and an 89-yard rushing touchdown. The third quarter accounted for 26 of FIU’s 39 points.
Smith terrorized the Jacksonville defense, rushing for 262 yards and scoring two touchdowns. Turnbull displayed his prowess with an interception, adding to his reputation as a defensive standout.
McKinney, meanwhile, caught a touchdown pass and contributed 99 receiving yards to solidify his status as the top receiver.
Their blowout 39-6 victory against the Dolphins set the tone for the remainder of the season. After snapping their three game losing streak, this marked their first of back-to-back wins, claiming their next game against. Albany.
Eventually finishing off the regular season with a 5-5 record, the Panthers gained momentum heading into their Shula Bowl matchup against the FAU Owls.
Despite making a valiant game late comeback, they came up short and took a 31-21 loss to the Owls.
Finishing their inaugural season with a 5-6 record, it served as a promising start for the Panthers and laid the foundation for their future in college football.
Remembered as the night when FIU’s young stars outshone the darkness, the Halloween game casted a hopeful light on the horizon for this budding football program.
Follow Jaymz Cosme on X: @JaymzCosme