Brett Shweky/Sports Director
Running back Anthony Jones helped the FIU Panthers accomplish a feat that had never been done before in the program’s 16-year existence en route to capping off his dramatic comeback journey.
Jones, who was injured in a drive-by shooting on Thursday, Sept. 6, ran for a career-high three touchdowns in the Panthers’ 35-32 win over the Toledo Rockets in the Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl on Friday, Dec. 21.
The redshirt junior was sidelined for seven games this season and didn’t make his return until Saturday, Nov. 3, against Florida Atlantic.
Jones’ hat trick performance helped FIU (9-4) secure their best single-season record ever and also helped the team win their first bowl game since 2010 in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl which ironically was also against the Rockets.
“We just played as a team today. Our coaches did a great job preparing us for this bowl game. Hats off to Toledo, but we did a great job today. We made history today,” said Jones in the bowl game post conference.
After falling to an early 10-0 deficit, Jones finally got the Panthers on the board in the second quarter as he found paint turf on a six-yard run. He would later score on a 30-yard run in the third quarter and also on an 18-yard run in the fourth.
FIU quarterback Christian Alexander completed 17 of his 26 passes for 209 yards and one score as he was given the starting nod in replace of injured passer James Morgan. The redshirt junior complimented his efficient passing with 83 yards rushing on 11 attempts.
Morgan, who won Conference USA’s Newcomer of the Year, was the catalyst for the Panthers’ offense throughout the season with the graduate transfer breaking the program’s record for single-season passing touchdowns (26).
“I kind of knew going into preparation for the bowl game. I kind of knew what James’ injury was,” said Alexander on knowing when he was going to start against the Rockets. “Obviously, I knew I had to carry the reins.”
Tight end Sterling Palmer caught the lone passing touchdown of the day for FIU with the freshman scoring on a 36-yard throw from Alexander in the second.
As the Panthers led 28-25 with 2:40 remaining in the game, Alexander converted a crucial fourth-down conversion as he found wide receiver Tony Gaiter IV on a six-yard pass to extend the team’s drive.
Jones finished off the drive with his third touchdown of the game to give FIU a 10-point advantage.
Toledo managed to find the end zone with two seconds left on the clock on a 43-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Eli Peters to wide receiver Jon’Vea Johnson.
The Rockets’ efforts came up short as they attempted an onside kick as time expired. Panthers linebacker Sage Lewis recovered the kick to seal the game for FIU.
Linebacker Edwin Freeman led the Panthers’ defense with eight tackles.
Feature Image by Gerard Albert III/PantherNOW
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