As the Panthers enter 2019 looking to secure the program’s first Conference USA crown, last season provided a litany of exciting and memorable moments for FIU fans, en route to a program-record nine wins.
With Fall camp rapidly approaching, let’s take a look back at some of the top plays of last season, chosen by yours truly.
7. Maurice Alexander’s Punt Return vs UMass
When Maurice Alexander decided to make the switch to wide receiver last off-season, there was a quiet confidence among everyone in the FIU program that he had the ability to be a dynamic weapon.
The Florida City, Florida native turned potential to reality from the moment the season started.
He was named to the C-USA All-Conference first-team as a punt returner, and his signature moment was a 63-yard video-game like return against UMass.
6. Rich Skrosky’s play-calling vs Charlotte
Offensive coordinators will tell you that play-calling is as much rhythm as it is strategy.
FIU OC Rich Skrosky’s work with the offense has been nothing short of remarkable the past two seasons.
His abilities were on display on the opening drive of the second half against Charlotte.
My favorite sequence of offensive plays from 2018 were his wide receiver-pass call, that saw Maurice Alexander hit Shemar Thornton for a 26-yard gain that put the team in the redzone. Two plays later, with the defense already on its heels, Skrosky dialed up a shovel pass to Anthony Jones, which saw the Panthers easily score.
The FIU coaches box was audibly ecstatic inside the stadium after the TD.
5. James Morgan hits the record books
James Morgan arrived in South Florida as an immensely talented signal-caller, with a chip on his shoulder after his Bowling Green career didn’t go as anticipated.
After opening day struggles against Indiana, the 6-4, 220-pound quarterback didn’t look back.
He went on to be named Conference USA’s Newcomer of the Year and broke Alex McGough’s record for touchdown passes in a season (21).
Here’s the record-breaking toss, as he set the mark early in the second quarter against UTSA.
4. Sage To The Rescue
While this wasn’t one of the most dynamic or outstanding plays of 2018, it makes this list, because it may have been one of the most pivotal.
The Panthers entered their week 12 contest at Charlotte, a seven-win team, with MTSU hot on their heels in the division standings.
With just under six minutes in the first quarter, the 49ers were up 7-3 and driving to make it a two-score game. In my opinion, had Charlotte scored, they may have been able to upset FIU, as RB Benny Lemay would go onto a 159-yard, four-touchdown afternoon.
Instead, DT Teair Tart forced 49er backup running back Ishod Finger to fumble and C-USA all-conference first-team performer in LB Sage Lewis, would corral the loose ball, racing 61 yards down the sideline to instead make it a 10-7 game in favor of FIU.
The Panthers would hang on to win 42-35.
3. The Return of Anthony Jones and Mershawn Miller
“From the E.R., to the endzone.”
That’s the quote from the voice of FIU athletics, A.J. Ricketts, when running back Anthony Jones would score his first touchdown after being injured in a senseless drive-by shooting in Miami.
Jones, along with OL Mershawn Miller were visiting family and friends in Miami’s Opa-Locka neighborhood, when both would be injured in the shooting.
The RB would be placed in a medically-induced coma, after being struck in the face and back, while Miller was hit in the arm.
Both players were lucky to escape life-threatening injuries, however, both missed extended time.
While this isn’t a play, it’s certainly noteworthy enough to make this list.
2. Bryce Singleton’s Grab vs. FAU
If there’s one word that would sum up wide receiver Bryce Singleton’s 2018 season, it would be exasperating.
Not because of his own doing, instead, when healthy, the junior from Hilton Head Island, SC is soaked with talent and ability.
Said talent was on full display midway through the third quarter of the Shula Bowl.
Singleton, reminiscent of Odell Beckham, made a leaping, one-hand catch in the right corner of the endzone to tie the game at 14-14.
1. Olin Cushion III’s Int vs MTSU
Pound-for-pound, FIU’s Olin Cushion may be one of the best players in the entire conference. At 5-8, 170-pounds, he makes up for what he lacks in size, with instinct and effort.
After being a reserve in 2017, he moved into the starting strong-safety spot and finished with 65 tackles.
His finest game of 2018 was the mid-season contest against MTSU, where he recorded eight tackles and this game-sealing interception, to send FIU into first-place in the East division.