Capped off by 377 total yards of offense and six forced turnovers on the defensive side of the ball, the FIU football team (1-1) handed the Wagner Seahawks a 34-3 loss on Saturday evening.
Freshman Alex Gardner set a freshman single-game record for yards by a running back, as the Jacksonville, Fla., native finished with 138 yards on the ground. He's the fourth true freshman in Panther football history to rush for over 100 yards in a game.
Also etching his name in the FIU record book was sophomore Jonnu Smith, whose 127 receiving yards tonight moved him to second all-time for receiving yards by a tight end. A 20-yard catch from junior E.J. Hilliard in the third quarter gave the Ocala, Fla., native his first 100-plus yard game.
After junior Denzell Perine forced the Seahawks to go three-and-out on their opening driving, collecting his third and a half sack of the season, freshman quarterback Alex McGough led the Panthers down the field for a touchdown in 1:08. Covering 52 yards, McGough connected with sophomore Jonnu Smith for 41 yards, the longest reception of the tight end's career.
On Wagner's ensuing drive, reigning Conference USA Special Teams Player of the Week Richard Leonard ran back an interception untouched, putting the Panthers ahead, 14-0, with 9:58 to play. The 60-yard return is the sixth longest interception for a score in FIU history.
After the Seahawks responded with a 21-yard field goal, cutting their deficit to 14-3, a fumble recovery from junior Michael Wakefield set up sophomore Austin Taylor for a 34-yard field goal.
A 61-yard rush from freshman Alex Gardner then placed the Panthers at the 1-yard line. Redshirt senior Cory White grabbed his first career touchdown pass on McGough's second touchdown pass of the night. Entering halftime, FIU held a commanding, 27-3, lead.
Following a scoreless third stanza, Wakefield picked up his second fumble recovery of the night midway through the fourth quarter. Two drives later, the Panthers' defense forced a key turnover deep in its own zone. In all, Wagner committed six turnovers during the game, tying the FIU record for turnovers by an opponent (6, Florida A&M, 2004).
One final Panther scoring drive took FIU 57 yards on eight plays. A four-yard rush by redshirt junior Anthon Samuel capped of a series lasting just under three and a half minutes.
Splitting time under center, McGough finished the night 9-of-18 and threw for 60 yards. Hilliard went an impressive 14-of-15 for 169 yards in the win. Both quarterbacks had longs of 35-plus yards.
FIU returns to actions on Saturday, as the team plays host to the Pittsburgh Panthers. Kickoff is slated for noon from Ocean Bank at FIU Stadium.