FIU erases early deficit to beat Toledo 35-32 in Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl
NASSAU, Bahamas – Toledo jumped out to an early 10-0 lead in the first quarter, but FIU erased the deficit by halftime and hung on for a 35-32 win in the 2018 Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl on Friday afternoon at Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium.
FIU quarterback Christian Alexander was named offensive MVP of the game, going 17-for-26 through the air for 209 yards and a touchdown. He also added 87 yards on 10 carries, which was a Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl record for a quarterback.
Panther running back Anthony Jones carried the ball 15 times for 92 yards and three touchdowns.
The defensive MVP of the game was linebacker Edwin Freeman, who led FIU with eight tackles, including five unassisted.
FIU (9-4) ends the year with a school-record nine wins, while Toledo finishes the season 7-6 overall.
“It’s spectacular to have won this game. These kids, the things that our entire football team has done for the last 10 or 11 months have been amazing,” said FIU head coach Butch Davis. “The hard work, the dedication, the unselfishness – you don’t win nine football games and set a school record for the most victories or win a bowl game without an awful lot of great plays.”
The 11th-ranked Toledo scoring offense also flexed its muscles at times, led by quarterback Eli Peters throwing for 264 yards and three touchdowns. Jon’Vea Johnson caught two of the touchdown passes, while Diontae Johnson had six receptions for 98 yards and a score.
FIU is now 3-1 all-time against Toledo, while Conference USA schools hold a 3-2 advantage over MAC schools in the Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl.
Toledo stole the momentum right away when Terrance Taylor forced a fumble on the opening kickoff that was recovered and returned to the FIU three-yard line by DeDarallo Blue. Two plays later, Bryant Koback rushed three yards for the touchdown to give the Rockets a 7-0 lead just 23 seconds into the game – the fastest touchdown in Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl history.
After forcing back-to-back punts by the Panther offense, Toledo tacked on a field goal with 12 seconds left in the first quarter to go up 10-0. Jameson Vest knocked in the 28-yard chip shot after a 12-play, 52-yard drive.
The second quarter, however, belonged to FIU, as the Panthers would take a 14-10 lead into halftime.
FIU put together a pair of lengthy touchdown drives to go on top. The Panthers got on the board on an eight-play, 75-yard drive that was capped off by a 6-yard run by Jones to make the score 10-7 Toledo with 12:44 left in the half.
Alexander then connected on a 36-yard touchdown pass to Sterling Palmer that ended a 7-play, 96-yard scoring drive, the longest in Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl history.
The Rockets marched down the field on the first drive of the third quarter and scored on a Peters seven-yard touchdown pass to Jon’Vea Johnson. The score put Toledo up 17-14, but it was the team’s final lead of the day.
Jones scored his second touchdown of the day on a 30-yard carry to put FIU up 21-17 with 3:47 in the third quarter. Maurice Alexander then put the Panthers up 28-17 with 11:12 remaining in the game on a 16-yard touchdown run.
Toledo made it interesting midway through the final quarter by closing the gap to 28-25 with 7:21 to go. Peters connected with Diontae Johnson for a 2-yard touchdown and then followed it up by converting a two-point conversion on a pass to Cody Thompson.
The Panthers then iced the game with a 6:40 drive that resulted in Jones’ third touchdown run of the day, this one from 18 yards out. The touchdown run came three plays after Christian Alexander completed a huge 4th-and-6 pass to Tony Gaiter IV to keep the drive going.
Peters hit Jon’Vea Johnson for a 43-yard TD pass with two seconds to play, but FIU recovered the ensuing onside kick to seal the victory.