As the clock ticked down and FIU players and staff finished making their way off of the field at M.M Roberts Stadium, a security staffer slammed shut a fence barricading the general public from the Panthers’ locker room.
The moment not only closed the door on the 2021 season — it signified the start of new beginnings, the ending of careers and an impending uncertainty that comes with a regime change.
Several players refused to enter the dressing room in the immediate aftermath, instead, embracing position coaches and staffers with the realization that Hattiesburg, Miss could serve as the final time they would see each other in this capacity.
Roughly two minutes following the final whistle, Butch and Drew Davis emerged from the crush of bodies, walking underneath the tunnel to pose for pictures together — purposely ignoring the drunken rants of victorious Golden Eagle fans who loomed on a balcony above the locker room — followed by quarterback Max Bortenschlager and defensive tackle Davon Strickland, who embraced Butch Davis for several moments.
Quarterbacks coach Bryn Renner, tight ends coach Drew Davis and running backs coach Sean Binckes walked towards the field to take a final look, followed by the 70-year-old now-former head coach as he gazed towards the turf.
“I love these kids and it hurts me more of them how this experience has went,” said Davis as he gathered his emotions before opening his press availability. “I told the kids after the game, we had plenty of opportunities to just quit and shut down, but they never quit and I’m extremely proud of them for that.”
Bortenschlager was visibly trying to hold back tears as he listened to Davis speak about his season.
“Of all the quarterbacks I’ve been around, he’s got courage and competitiveness and he loves this game,” said Davis. “Not one time throughout this whole thing did he shut down and stop trying to help us win, we’re grateful that he came here and I love him, I want him to be in my life for a long time.”
The Maryland transfer set a program record for passing yards in a season with his 91-yard touchdown pass to Tyrese Chambers late in the first quarter — the TD pass would serve as the final one of his collegiate — and possibly football career.
“I tried to stay as level-headed as possible on the way to the stadium, because of it being the last game,” said Bortenschlager. “This is it for me, I may have an additional year because of medical redshirts, but six years is a lot of college football and I’m proud of my time here, I’ll be better off in the long run for the time at FIU.”
As Davis finished his remarks, the looming possibility that this could be his final time leading a program led into his statements.
“I’m incredibly proud of what we’ve done here, three bowl games, graduating 85 players, there’s a lot of things behind the scenes that made it extraordinarily difficult, but we were able to accomplish things that hadn’t been done before at FIU,” said Davis.
As he entered the locker room, Richard and Rishard Dames were standing next to each other about to exit. Davis hugged both players, before they walked out for the final time together as teammates.
Receiver Tyrese Chambers was emotional during his availability, giving thoughts on Davis the season as a whole.
“He could have walked out the day he got fired, you see that all across football,” said Chambers. “He was in the meeting room on time, every day and I love that dude for the rest of my life, he gave me the opportunity and I wish him nothing but the best and I know this isn’t the season that any of us envisioned.”
One by one, an assembly line of players began to exit the locker room.
Seniors Kevin Oliver, Daniel Jackson and Bryce Singleton, among others piled their equipment bags into cases and turned towards the field — before walking up the ramp and boarding the FIU buses for the final time.
As the police escort led the team to Hattiesburg-Laurel Regional Airport, it closed the book on the Davis era at FIU, one that will certainly be remembered by the 18 losses in the final 19 games, but Saturday served as the last remnants of 17 wins in two seasons, a program-record nine-win 2018 and a Bahamas Bowl victory.
The next chapter of FIU football is officially underway.