Quarterback Christian Alexander, making his first career start, threw for 209 yards and ran for another 83 to lead the Florida International Golden Panthers to a 35-32 upset win over the Toledo Rockets on Friday in the Bahamas Bowl in Nassau, Bahamas.
FIU running back Anthony Jones, who missed seven games this season after he was wounded in a drive-by shooting, ran for 92 yards and three touchdowns.
The Panthers (9-4) set a school record with their ninth win of the season. The victory also evened FIU’s bowl record at 2-2 — the other win coming in 2010 against Toledo, as well.
Panthers quarterback James Morgan, the Conference USA Newcomer of the Year who set a school record with 26 touchdown passes, missed a game for the first time this season because of a sore shoulder.
It was the second straight year FIU was without its starting quarterback for at least part of its bowl game. Last year, FIU lost 28-3 to Temple in the Gasparilla Bowl in Tampa, after Alex McGough suffered a fractured collarbone in the first quarter. The Seahawks later drafted McGough in the seventh round.
This time, though, the replacement stepped up. Alexander completed 17 of 26 passes for the 209 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions. His 83 yards on the ground came on 11 carries — a 7.5-yard average.
One of his biggest plays came with FIU leading 28-25 with less than three minutes to play. Alexander completed a 6-yard pass to Tony Gaiter on fourth-and-6 from the Toledo 33-yard line. Three plays later Alexander ran 18 yards for a score, giving FIU an insurmountable 35-25 lead.
Toledo (7-6) was led by quarterback Eli Peters, who completed 22 of 37 passes for 264 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. He also ran for 43 yards.
FIU got off to a terrible start as Bryce Singleton fumbled the opening kickoff at his own 8-yard line. Two plays later, Toledo scored on Bryant Koback’s 3-yard run around left end.
Toledo increased its lead to 10-0 on Jameson Vest’s 28-yard field goal with 11 seconds left in the first quarter.
FIU cut its deficit to 10-7 little more than two minutes into the second quarter on a 6-yard run by Jones.
Toledo missed an opportunity to add to its lead midway through the second when Koback fumbled at the FIU 4-yard line. Olin Cushion forced the fumble, and Rishard Dames recovered.
FIU took advantage as Alexander rolled right and fired a 36-yard TD pass to freshman tight end Sterling Palmer on third-and-2 to give the Panthers a 14-10 lead. Alexander also had a 41-yard scramble on the 96-yard drive.
Toledo took the second-half kickoff and scored on Peters’ 7-yard pass to Jon’Vea Johnson. Peters also had a 28-yard run in that possession, converting on a fourth-and-1 at the Panthers’ 38. On the scoring play, Peters ducked to escape a sack and then found Johnson in the left corner.
FIU scored rushing touchdowns on consecutive drives to take a 28-17 lead. First, Jones scored on a 30-yard TD sprint up the middle with 3:47 to play in the third quarter. Then Maurice Alexander scored on a 16-yard jet sweep with 11:12 to play in the fourth, running right and then cutting up the middle. Maurice Alexander also recovered a fumble by Gaiter to keep that first drive alive.
Toledo cut the deficit to 28-25 on a 2-yard pass from Peters to Diontae Johnson and a two-point conversion throw from Peters to Cody Thompson, who made a leaping grab in the back of the end zone.
FIU would then go on a 13-play, 83-yard drive, culminating with Jones’ third scoring run. Peters would find Jon’Vea Johnson from 43 yards out with two seconds left, but the Panthers recovered the ensuing onside kick.
—Field Level Media