With Friday marking the eighth game of the season for FIU, college football’s third-youngest team is starting to put the talking point of their youth in the rearview mirror. FIU (4-4, 2-2) battled back from a two-score deficit in the first half and twice in the second-half and in overtime to defeat Louisiana Tech (2-6, 1-3) in an exhilarating 42-34 win on Friday night at FIU Stadium.
“This team has grown up in understanding football,” said MacIntyre. “Wyatt (Lawson) had to go into the game at center for a few plays, we had Philip Houston play right tackle for Lyndell in his first college start, I see guys all realizing the importance of their roles and being prepared.”
Down 17-7 and facing the prospect of a three-score deficit midway through the second quarter, defensive tackle Jordan Guerad sacked Louisiana Tech quarterback Landry Lyddy to force a punt. In the next two minutes of gameplay, Mike MacIntyre’s club scored on a Jalen Bracey 16-yard touchdown pass from Grayson James to pull FIU within three.
FIU’s special teams made their mark on the ensuing kickoff as kickoff specialist Lucas Matias masterfully executed a squib kick on the right sideline that was recovered 47 yards downfield by cornerback Hezekiah Masses.
“We’ve been practicing that sky right play for eight weeks but we hadn’t tried it in a game,” said MacIntyre. “Number 6 (Smoke Harris) made us want to do that, he lines up way to the left and we wanted to get the kick over to the right, Zeke (Hezekiah Masses) can fly so we told him if they fair catch, fall off but if they don’t go after it and he made a great play.”
Two plays later, the Panthers were in the endzone on Jalen Bracey’s 11-yard catch followed by Tyrese Chambers’ 18-yard touchdown grab to put the Panthers ahead, 21-17.
Ricky Brumfield’s unit came up big again with two seconds left in the first half. Bulldogs’ kicker Jacob Barnes’ chip-shot attempt from 29 yards out was blocked by North Carolina transfer Alex Nobles to keep the FIU lead at four.
“Our kids were sky high going into halftime and that blocked field goal played a huge part, there’s no doubt that it was gigantic for us, great job by Ricky (Brumfield) on what he called,” said MacIntyre.
The contest was 24-17 entering the fourth quarter following a Chase Gabriel 45-yard field goal, but Sonny Cumbie’s team showed their own resolve on the first drive of the game’s final quarter.
Making his first career start, Lyddy drove the Bulldogs 68 yards on 12 plays, connecting with reserve tight end Nate Jones for a 27-yard gain of third-and-13 to put Louisiana Tech at the FIU 9. Third-string tight end Chavis Thornton capped the Tech drive with a nine-yard TD run to tie the contest again at 24.
Lyddy went 28-of-40 for 256 yards passing, making the start for Parker McNeil, who dressed but wasn’t ready to play following his injury against Rice.
Cumbie’s team took a 27-24 lead when Barnes connected from 32 yards out with 5:31 left in regulation.
The Panthers’ first attempt to take a lead in regulation ended on downs after James’ attempt for Bracey was broken up by veteran Bulldogs’ defensive back BeeJay Williamson. However, after getting the ball back with 2:22 left in the game, MacIntyre’s defense forced La Tech off the field in just 18 seconds of gameplay on a three-and-out.
In the penultimate drive of regulation, FIU tight end Rivaldo Fairweather emerged out of the shadows to feast on the Bulldogs secondary. After having only one grab through 57 minutes, the Lauderhill native hauled in four passes for 60 yards to drive the Panthers’ offense into Tech territory, where Gabriel’s 28-yard kick sent the game into overtime.
“Throughout the game, I just stayed patient and positive because it’s all about trust,” said Fairweather. “It’s just my connection with Grayson, that’s my quarterback, it’s not tough to wait because I know if I stay positive it’s coming.”
Louisiana Tech’s final score of the game came on their first possession of the extra period when Marquis Crosby scored on a five-yard touchdown. Crosby finished the night as the game’s leading rusher with 115 yards and two scores on 21 attempts.
FIU responded on running back Lexington Joseph’s one-yard touchdown run. One of C-USA’s top all-purpose players, Joseph accounted for 15 yards on the drive as a rusher and receiver and 123 total yards on the evening.
Retaining possession for the second overtime series, James again hooked up with Fairweather, this time for a 24-yard gain to the one yard line. FIU’s sophomore signal-caller threw for a career high 321 yards and three touchdowns in the victory.
“We knew we were going to get a couple of looks from them that would allow Rivaldo to take advantage of his size,” said James. “You see what he’s capable of and I’m glad he got to showcase that tonight.”
Joseph would find the endzone again from one-yard out to put FIU ahead, followed by MacIntyre’s decision to go for two.
“We had the play called and they kind of covered it, but Grayson was able to remain composed and it’s just a playmaker making a play,” said MacIntyre.
“It actually was the same play that we ran against Bryant to win, we didn’t execute it exactly the same way but the result was obviously what we wanted.”
The Panthers’ defense followed the score by stopping Lyddy on four consecutive passes to cap the night.
The win moves FIU to .500 and was the program’s first victory at FIU Stadium since 2019’s senior day win over Old Dominion.
For MacIntyre, the win was especially sentimental as he’s heading to San Jose to celebrate the 10th anniversary of that program’s 10-win season, a feat that he hopes to achieve with the Panthers.
“I told them in the locker room that I’m going to meet a group of guys who saved a program and I hope to be able to do that with these guys and I can’t wait to get there and talk to them about the group of guys I have here at FIU,” said MacIntyre.