As the seconds ticked down in FIU’s 21-7 victory over New Mexico State, it felt almost as if there wasn’t a sure feeling what to do. The last time the Panthers’ defeated an FBS opponent, only six current players on the roster were with the program.
In fact, 64 players on FIU’s roster had never experienced a win over an FBS opponent — with senior Dorian Hall and redshirt juniors Davon Strickland, Shaun Peterson Jr. and Lyndell Hudson Jr. being the only ones to experience a road victory of any kind.
Once the clock hit all zeros and Mike MacIntyre’s youthful team made the walk back to the visiting locker rooms, they let their emotions show.
“We got one, baby, we got one,” shouted quarterback Grayson James as ran towards the locker room.
Junior running back Lexington Joseph was well aware of the time between road victories.
“My first road win, my first road win,” said Joseph outside the locker room.
The improbability of a win for the Panthers in New Mexico was beyond high coming off of a 73-0 loss seven days prior at Western Kentucky — the program’s worst defeat in its 21-year history.
However, MacIntyre’s refrain to the players of trust his staff and in each other was one that he preached during the week and in his postgame address to the team. After that message, a deafening roar came from inside the locker room — followed by the booming sounds of Kodak Black — and the Panthers left Las Cruces as winners.
Here’s the game notebook from Aggie Memorial Stadium.
Entering Saturday’s game, the FIU rushing attack was averaging a paltry 2.4 yards per attempt on the ground and Panther quarterbacks had been under duress for the bulk of the last two contests.
With just 10 offensive linemen dressed and two of the starters in Lyndell Hudson and Julius Pierce battling injuries, the FIU offensive line gutted out an incredible performance — dominating the line of scrimmage for the majority of the 21-7 win in Las Cruces.
Following the game, MacIntyre noted the play of his group and offensive line coach Greg Austin.
“I think we had six or seven guys who played of the 10 who dressed, we had a couple of guys get sick and we had a player quit, but the guys who are here played through it,” said MacIntyre. “Coach Austin and Coach Yost did a great job with them and its very rewarding to see how they fought through it.”
The Panthers rushed for 152 yards on the day led by Flex Joseph with 80 yards on 14 attempts and Grayson James who added 43 yards on 18 carries.
During MacIntyre’s postgame presser after the Western Kentucky loss, he was affirmative that he was going to “keep loving and encouraging the team” following what was arguably the lowest moment in program history. One week later, MacIntyre held firm in his belief as to his team and thanked them for believing in his message.
“I told them that I love them and I thanked them for trusting in us and trusting in each other,” said MacIntyre. “You can’t get anything done without trust and all of the things that we had to face this week, the hurricane and having to practice at the Dolphins and Hurricanes facilities, the stomach bug that cost us some guys, having guys banged up, they blocked out all of the noise and kept the trust.”
First-year Athletic Director Scott Carr has been on the job for less than a year, but he’s experienced enough opinions and viewpoints on his hire of MacIntyre to last several years.
Following his hire of MacIntyre, there was a feeling of unsurety surrounding the choice over several other names with local ties. Once a coaching staff was assembled, there seemed to be a calming of the waves that Carr was able to ride into the season-opener. After a 1-2 start and coming off the trouncing at WKU, Carr heard all of the quiet questions as to if he made the right move — and even those who speculated as to if football should be a focus for the athletics’ department.
Outside the FIU locker room, Carr was all smiles and noted the probability — an 18.5% chance given to the Panthers by ESPN to win entering Saturday’s contest.
“We knew that we had the right coach, the right coaching staff and our student athletes were bought in and it really was just a matter of time,” said Carr. “The fact that I screenshotted it on Thursday I think tells how you I felt about them giving us an 18.5% chance to win, we knew we were better than that and we knew we have an awesome staff and to be honest with you, I felt a little disrespected but now these guys see what it takes and we’re excited about the future.”