Leading up to the penultimate game of the 2021 season for FIU, head coach Butch Davis drew a clear line in the sand with his comments about how he felt the administration is “sabotaging the football program.”
As he took the field in Saturday’s 49-7 loss to North Texas (5-6, 4-3), his attire was noticeably absent of any FIU (1-10, 0-7) attire. He coached the entirety of the contest as the only member of his staff not wearing any school-related attire — the first time in his five seasons he didn’t wear any attire with a university logo.
Postgame, Davis said that the decision was made in honor of military night at FIU Stadium.
“This was the military night, last week everyone in the country did it but the administration wanted us to do it this week,” said Davis. “If you saw on the jumbotron, they honored many branches of the military. My father was in the military and my uncle was killed in a submarine attack in World War II, so I have strong ties to the military.”
On a rainy South Florida night that saw 22 Panthers participate in senior night, their final contest at FIU Stadium was nothing more than an opportunity to reminisce on the team’s 15 home victories — as earning a 16th was decided well before the halftime whistle.
After forcing a three-and-out, North Texas linebacker Kevin Wood picked off Panthers quarterback Max Bortenschlager after the offense drove inside the Mean Green 10-yard line. UNT would begin the drive at the FIU 40 and Conference USA’s top rushing attack gave the visitors the first score, as Mean Green quarterback Austin Aune’s 11-yard keeper made it 7-0.
The FIU offense would convert on a pair of fourth-down conversions, most notably a Tommy Heatherly fake punt that saw the senior punter connect with reserve linebacker Reggie Peterson for a 20-yard gain at the end of the opening quarter — but the drive would stall following a pair of sacks by UNT standouts Dion Novil and KD Davis.
On the ensuing Mean Green drive, running back Ikaika Ragsdale sprinted 22 yards on first down and two plays later, Aune hit the team’s leading receiver, Roderic Burns for a 55-yard touchdown to make it 14-0. In continuing with the string of disastrous second quarters for the Panthers, the offense managed only 35 total yards, which included zero rushing yards on eight attempts.
Sophomore running back Lexington Joseph earned the start for senior D’Vonte Price, who missed the game due to a lower-body injury suffered in the Old Dominion game. Following the contest, Davis noted that Price may have played his last down in an FIU uniform.
“He had some bursa sac issues but his ligaments and tendons are healthy, so more than likely, he’s done for the year,” said Davis.
The following North Texas drive saw senior DeAndre Torrey bust loose for a 50-yard touchdown scamper to put UNT ahead by three scores. As a whole, the Mean Green finished with 378 yards on the ground, led and Torrey’s 109 yards on 18 attempts and Ragsdale’s 102 on 19.
Davis’ offense was again plagued by numerous third-and-long situations, as the next FIU drive made it to their own 41-yard line, but on a 3rd-and-8, Bortenschlager was hurried and forced to throw the ball away. On the evening, the Maryland transfer finished 15-of-31 passing with 167 yards and one touchdown.
The Mean Green would score on a four-play, 80-yard drive that took only a one-minute and 42 seconds, culminating with Aune’s second touchdown toss of the day, this time to Khatbib Lyles for a 35-yard score. Of UNT’s five first-half touchdown drives, four took less than two minutes and two were under a minute. Seth Littrell’s club’s final scoring drive of the first half saw them go 76 yards in just under three minutes, ending with Torrey finding his second score of the half to make it a 35-0 game.
Of the players who participated in senior day, several took in the loss from the sidelines with injuries as Price, Dorian Hall, Josh Valentine-Turner and Rocky Jacques-Louis were in street clothes for the contest. Richard Dames led the way for the seniors who did play, recording a career-high 13 tackles in his final contest at FIU Stadium.
“The night didn’t turn out the way we wanted, but I’m going to remember the good times and the bad times, because you learn from the adversity and I love every guy I played with and the coaches, especially Coach (Butch) Davis.”
Dames felt appreciative that Davis chose to finish out the year with the team following the news of his dismissal.
“When he found out that he wasn’t coming back, he could have left, but he didn’t quit and I appreciate that a lot,” said Dames.
Tyrese Chambers hauled in his eighth score of the season in what has become expected fashion, going for a 60-yard touchdown to give FIU its first and only score of the night.
Following the game, Davis was mostly focused on his feelings towards the group of players who gave the program their first three-year bowl berth streak and a program-record nine wins in 2018.
“They only had two winning seasons in the first 15 years and we were fortunate enough to go to three straight bowl games,” said Davis. “That’s and the amount of kids who have graduated, been the first in their family to earn a degree, that’s what’s important to me.”
For the Mean Green, the win marks their fourth-straight, after losing six consecutive games prior and most importantly — it keeps their bowl hopes alive as they look forward to a Lone Star State showdown with undefeated UTSA at Apogee Stadium.
For FIU, the final seven days of Davis’ tenure will certainly be marked by questions of the numerous off-field issues raised and the impending coaching search following next Saturday’s season-finale at Southern Miss.