Unsurprisingly, Florida International has won a football game played outside the United States. Butch Davis’ Panthers beat Toledo in the Bahamas Bowl on Friday, 35-32.
Aside from a thrilling Camellia Bowl, this was the most enjoyable game of bowl season so far. It looked enticing going in for a few reasons, and it lived up to whatever little hype it had.
One was that mid-Friday-afternoon bowl games are a great way to spend time in the winter. One was that this game now has maybe the silliest bowl sponsor ever, as a Chicago suburb with a big industrial park bought the naming rights to this game 1,320 miles away.
Another reason was more football-related: Toledo’s long had a pretty good offense and did again this year, despite losing longtime and prolific QB Logan Woodside after 2017. FIU entered with a better record (8-4 to Toledo’s 7-5) and, without doing any one thing amazingly, had been solid in Conference USA. The Panthers have some talented guys.
Things looked really good for the Rockets early. FIU’s Bryce Singleton fumbled away the opening kickoff on a weird, slow-developing return, and Toledo was in the end zone two plays later. It was 10-0 Rockets by the end of the opening quarter.
The Panthers were plucky, though. They scored touchdowns at the beginning and end of the second quarter, and their defense stiffened up and made life difficult for a Rocket offense that rarely has trouble putting up points against MAC teams.
They had a 14-10 lead at halftime, despite the early hole and the absence of quarterback James Morgan, who missed the game because of shoulder soreness.
FIU started backup Christian Alexander — a 6’3, 225-pound redshirt junior who’d thrown 68 passes in four years in the program. He made three vital conversions on the drive that wound up sealing the game.
Alexander did a nice job keeping the offense moving in general. He carried 10 times for 87 yards and was 17-of-26 passing for 209 yards and a TD.
He did his best work on the drive that ended the game, though. FIU had a 3-point lead after Toledo had scored a touchdown with 7:21 to go.
Then, Alexander made all of these plays:
- On a third-and-6 from his own 21, on the Panthers’ first set of downs of the drive, he ran on a QB draw for 9 yards to keep his unit on the field.
- On a third-and-9 from his own 31 on the next set of downs, he hit Singleton with a 32-yard lob down the left sideline to move the sticks again.
- On a fourth-and-6 at the Toledo 33, after the Rockets had burned all their timeouts in an attempt to get the ball back with time, he threw a 6-yard right at the sticks to Tony Gaiter IV. It held up as a first down on video review, and FIU kept the ball again.
FIU’s Anthony Jones ran 18 yards for his third touchdown of the day with 41 seconds left, salting the game away.
That concluded a 13-play, 83-yard, 6:40 drive.
It was a cool moment. Jones recovered from injury in a drive-by shooting in early September and made it back to be a contributor for the Panthers. He deserved a moment like that game-clinching TD. (Offensive lineman Mershawn Miller was also hurt in that shooting and also returned to play for FIU this year.)
Because of how well FIU controlled the clock down the stretch, Toledo’s good offense never got a chance to decide the result. The Panthers were touchdown underdogs with their backup QB, and they would’ve won by two scores if not for a 43-yard Toledo touchdown with two seconds left on the clock.