Liam Rooney | Sports Director
A “new day” has finally arrived for FIU football as the Panthers kick off their 2022 season with a 38-37 overtime win against the Bryant Bulldogs.
Their first victory in 364 days, the win snapped an 11-game losing streak for FIU, last beating Long Island 48-10 on Sep. 2, 2021.
In the first game under new head coach Mike Macintyre, the Panthers had a sloppy start, down 16-0.
With two minutes left in the first half senior quarterback Gunnar Holmberg lead FIU on a 14-play drive down the field to score the first touchdown of the game for the Blue and Gold, connecting with running back Lexington “Flex” Joseph seconds before halftime.
Heading into the break FIU trailed Bryant 16-6.
Despite neither team scoring in the third quarter, two of the game’s most important plays took place in those 15 minutes. On Bryant’s second drive of the quarter, they marched down the field and found themselves on the verge of scoring before FIU’s Demetrius Hill forced a fumble that halted the Bulldog drive on the one-yard line.
“The goal-line stand was really big, really big,” Macintyre said postgame. “We stunted through there and hit hard.”
The following drive for Bryant, on a third and long with just under 30 seconds left in the third, FIU linebacker Shaun Peterson Jr. stripped Bryant QB Gage Moloney, forcing the second consecutive turnover for the Panthers.
“I was on a blitz and the tackle didn’t pick me up,” Peterson said after the game. “It was just reaction, something I worked on during the week, and I clubbed the ball out and got on it as fast as I can.”
FIU started the fourth quarter with a touchdown as QB Grayson James, who replaced Holmberg after he left the game with a concussion in the third, hit wide receiver Tyrese Chambers for the touchdown, narrowing the score to 16-13.
Following a successful stand by the defense, James found wide receiver Kris Mitchell for another touchdown and the 20-16 lead.
Bryant responded almost immediately, 23-20 with six minutes remaining. On fourth and seven James pulled a rabbit out of his hat, dancing out of the pocket to avoid the oncoming Bulldogs linebacker and delivering a strike to Mitchell for a 46-yard touchdown, giving FIU a 27-23 lead.
“I really trust all my guys,” James said postgame about the confidence he had on the fourth down throw. “I just know if I give them a chance [the WRs] and let them make a play they’ll come down and have that [scoring] happen.”
Again, the Bulldogs responded, taking the lead after a ten-play drive, leaving FIU with 43 seconds to cut into the 30-27 score line.
After a targeting penalty on fourth down gave the Panthers a lifeline, James and Mitchell connected again to get FIU in field goal range. With three seconds left in the game, kicker Chase Gabriel nailed a 29-yard field goal as time expired, sending the game to overtime tied at 30.
Scoring on the first play of overtime, Bryant lead 37-30, putting all the pressure on the Panthers. As the downs passed by, FIU found themselves with a fourth down and the game on the line. James took the snap and delivered a pass to the hands of Chambers for the touchdown.
The Panthers had a decision to make —go for two and the win or kick the extra point and hope the defense stops the Bulldogs.
“Coach Yost goes ‘I got the perfect play,’ and I thought okay, we hadn’t stopped them, and you have the perfect play,” Macintyre said about the decision to go for two and the win. “Let’s do it.”
It was the perfect play. Running back EJ Wilson freed himself from his man and caught a looping pass from James to give FIU the 38-37 comeback win.
Macintyre starts his tenure as a Panther with a victory but admitted there is work to be done to clean up some of the mistakes that FIU made tonight before their road trip to take on Texas State next Saturday, the first of three straight games away from Miami.
“We’ll travel well, they’ll compete, it’s just a different venue,” Macintyre said about the three road games in a row. “It’ll be a lot of fun, we’ll go to Texas State, and it’ll be their first home game, so they’ll have a great crowd and be an exciting venue.”