Liam Rooney | Sports Director
On a night that started with FIU honoring their veteran seniors, it was the play of the youth that stole the show in the final game of the season for FIU, falling to the Middle Tennesse State Blue Raiders 33-28.
In a contest that encapsulated the Panthers’ season, things started off slow for FIU, later showing excellent promise in the middle of the game, only to fall short of the ultimate goal.
Ending a year that exceeded the expectations of many, FIU had the chance to snap a three-game losing streak and finish the season with five wins, but miscues on offense late in the game cost the Panthers a chance at a potential final win of the year.
“It was kind of one of those ones you kind of wanted to never end in a way, exciting game,” head coach Mike MacIntyre said postgame. “We fell short, but I was I was extremely impressed how our kids just keep battling.”
Sophomore quarterback Grayson James has been electric this season, but a thigh bruise kept him from starting the final game of the year, thrusting Haden Carlson into the spotlight for his first start of his college career.
“I’m just thankful for the opportunity to even have the chance,” Carlson said about how he felt about his first start. “I know a lot of kids who’d love to do that, but I know I definitely have a lot to improve.”
The Blue Raiders came out intent on making a statement, taking two early field goals and a 6-0 lead at the end of the first quarter. As the end of the second quarter neared, Middle Tennesse led the Panthers 20-0.
A lackluster offensive performance, the Panthers sparked to life in the final two minutes of the first half as Haden Carlson and Rivaldo Fairweather started to connect and bring life to the FIU offense. With just over a minute left in the half, Carlson lead the Panthers down the field and got them on the board with his first collegiate touchdown.
“No doubt it gave us confidence, you know, and then we just didn’t start the second half off well. Which was unfortunate,” MacIntyre said about the late score in the first half.
Middle Tennesse led 20-7 at the break, as Carlson threw two interceptions in the first half and a touchdown, a sign of things to come in the remainder of the game.
Despite a positive end to the first half, Middle Tennesse scored on their second drive of the half to give the Blue Raiders a twenty-point lead and presumably an easy win to see out.
The Panthers weren’t going to go quietly, providing an instant response as Carlson connected with Fairweather for a 75-yard touchdown on the first play after Middle Tennesse scored.
“It’s the momentum in the game, like the energy that the game brings, it’s just like Madden you know, like the X-factor,” Fairweather said about his ability to make big plays.
Climbing back into the game behind an impressive stretch from Carlson. Two minutes after the touchdown with Fairweather, Carlson connected with tight end Josiah Miamen for a second straight score, cutting the lead down to six.
The Panthers took the lead on a familiar story, a Carlson to Fairweather touchdown. Leading 28-27 with under three minutes left, the Panthers had the game in their grasp.
On a third and five, Carlson dropped back to pass and threw a pick-six, as the Blue Raiders stole the lead late, going up 33-28. FIU drove downfield with a chance to win the game, but it ended with another Carlson interception, seeing him finish even with four touchdowns and four interceptions and a 33-28 loss.
Finishing the season with four wins and eight losses, there’s a lot of potential for this youthful Panther’s squad. Winning more games this season than they have in two years, FIU clearly have work to do, but for one of the youngest teams in the FBS they’ve showed some promise.
“They definitely learned when they get knocked down, they know they’re not knocked down, they’re going to get back up,” MacIntyre said. “That’s a great thing to learn in life because it’s not about how many times you get knocked down, it’s about how many times you get back up and they learned to do that”
A season full of ups and downs, this game represented that in a nutshell. The Panthers had the chance to capitalize and end their season with a quality win, but in the end fell short. Nonetheless, FIU have the building blocks in place to grow from Macintyre’s first year and have a full off-season to address the needs of the squad.
“We got a lot of guys coming back, and we’re excited about that. I told them I loved them, I told them I cared about them, thanked them over and over for what they put in and how they’ve worked and how they fought and how they keep fighting and keep going,” said MacIntyre.
“Our fight and our willingness to keep going and our willingness to stay together are huge components to rebuilding a team,” MacIntyre said. “There’s no doubt about it.”