The Panthers took down the Toledo Rockets in a thrilling Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl on Friday, 35-32. With the victory, the 2018 Panthers established a new FIU record for most wins in a season (nine).
It was a proud and emotional press conference for head coach Butch Davis, who recalled the challenges his team faced this season.
“If you coach and you don’t love the kids, then you’re in it for the wrong reasons. You’ve got to be there for them in the good times and the bad times. I love them to pieces,” Davis said.
The Panthers entered the game without their starting quarterback and C-USA Newcomer of the Year, junior James Morgan, who was held out with an injury. Junior quarterback Christian Alexander played in his place.
Alexander was not just a capable replacement—he was excellent. He completed 65 percent of his passes, threw for 209 yards and a touchdown and rushed for 87 yards. He had no turnovers.
“I knew I had to carry the reigns,” Alexander said.
For Butch Davis, who won his first bowl game in blue and gold on Friday, his tenure at FIU came full circle. The Panthers had a chance to win nine games in last year’s Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl; however, an injury to former starting quarterback Alex McGough took them by surprise. Backup quarterback Maurice Alexander was underprepared. The Panthers were nearly shut out in a loss to Temple.
Davis learned from the experience. He concentrated on having two game-ready quarterbacks for 2018. He knew he found them in Morgan and Alexander but did not know who to name the starter so he held a competition. Morgan eventually won the job, but Alexander still accumulated practice time with the starters and played in five different games prior to the Bahamas Bowl.
When Alexander made his first start in an FIU uniform on Friday, he was ready.
“I wish I had last year all over again. I would have played him significantly more,” Davis said.
The most spectacular performance on Friday was by senior running back Anthony Jones. Only three months ago, he was lying in a hospital bed battling life-threatening injuries after getting shot in Opa-Locka. On Friday, he rushed for 92 yards and three touchdowns.
He was humble and grateful after the game.
“Throughout this whole thing, the university, my brothers and my coach had my back. I have the best support staff at FIU,” Jones said.
When Jones was at Jackson Memorial Hospital in critical condition, his teammates visited in such numbers that they were overflowing out of the lobby. On Friday, they lifted the Bahamas Bowl trophy together.
“We’re with each other more than we’re with our families. In practice, watching film, off-time… [our bond] is just something you create playing football, and these guys will be my brothers forever,” Jones said.
For FIU fans in attendance, the Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl was something to remember.
“It was one of the most amazing moments as a Panther fan,” said senior civil engineering major Danny De Leon. “The fact that we won our bowl game and that we’re changing the football culture, it makes me really happy.”