MIAMI, Fla. — It was simply the Golden Panthers’ ground attack that proved to be too much for the Thundering Herd.
In its home finale, the Florida International football team outgained Conference USA guest Marshall 259-to-78 on the ground — with a 3-0 edge in rushing touchdowns — and the Golden Panthers claimed a 31-14 victory, on Saturday in the Sunshine State.
Florida International (4-7, 4-3 CUSA) — which had dropped three straight games headed into Saturday — scored on the game’s opening drive when Alex Gardner broke a 14-yard touchdown run. Place kicker Austin Taylor added the extra point and capped off the 4-play, 82-yard drive with 13:34 left in the opening period.
After three interceptions — two thrown by FIU and one thrown by Marshall (3-8, 2-5) — the Herd tied the game with 1:40 remaining in the first quarter, when Chase Litton connected with Emanuel Byrd for a 17-yard touchdown pass. Amoreto Curraj made the point-after-touchdown kick, capping off the 8-play, 71-yard drive.
Early in the second period, FIU intercepted a Marshall pass, but missed a potential go-ahead field goal. The Golden Panthers eventually reestablished their lead with 38 seconds left in the first half, when Christian Alexander found A.J. Branisel for a 3-yard touchdown pass.
In the opening drive of the second half, Marshall drove 32 yards in 10 plays and 6:10, but was forced to punt. The Golden Panthers then marched 71 yards in 15 plays and 7:51, but were held to a 29-yard field goal by Taylor.
Marshall attempted to get those three points right back on the next drive, but the kick was blocked and FIU took over on its own 10. The Golden Panthers then drove 90 yards in seven plays and 2:51, expanding their lead to 24-7 with an 8-yard Anthony Jones touchdown run and an extra-point kick by Taylor.
MU answered with an 8-play, 73-yard scoring drive, capped off by a 24-yard touchdown pass from Litton to Deon-Tay McManus. Curraj made the extra point, cutting the deficit to 10 points with 3:53 remaining in regulation.
Florida International recovered an onside kick attempt and drove the final nail in the coffin five plays later, when Gardner scored on an 8-yard run. Taylor’s extra-point kick put the final touches on the Golden Panthers’ 31-14 victory.
For the game, FIU held a 516-to-379 advantage in total offense and a 26-to-24 edge in first downs. Both teams committed five penalties — MU for 55 yards and FIU for 45 yards — and both teams had two turnovers. FIU was 5-of-7 in red zone trips, while Marshall was 1-of-2. Florida International punted just once in the game, while Marshall punted four times.
Litton — who finished with a net of three yards on five carries for the Herd — completed 29-of-42 passes for 301 yards and two touchdowns.
McManus hauled in a game-best 10 passes for 151 yards and one score, Josh Knight added six receptions for 42 yards, while Hykeck Foster caught five passes for 17 yards. Justin Hunt had four receptions for 44 yards, Michael Clark added 27 yards on two grabs, while Byrd finished with 20 yards and one touchdown on two catches.
Anthony Anderson led the Herd on the ground with 56 yards on 11 tries, while Tony Pittman added 19 yards on 10 carries.
The MU defense was led by Rodney Allen with a pair of interceptions. Frankie Hernandez and Gary Thompson each had a sack for Marshall, while Corey Neely and Kendall Gant tied for a team-high in tackles, with 12 apiece. Both Neely and Gant had eight solo tackles.
Jones and Gardner carried the load for the FIU offense, posting 121 yards and one score on 17 carries, and 119 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries respectively.
Maurice Alexander was 14-of-20 through the air for 204 yards, while Christian Alexander was 4-of-5 passing for 53 yards and one score.
Darrius Scott led the FIU receiving corp with four receptions for 46 yards. Branisel and Stantley Thomas each caught three passes, marking 42 yards and 87 yards respectively.
Niko Gonzalez ad Isaiah Brown each intercepted a pass for the hosts, while Fermin Silva posted two sacks. Leona Washington had one sack for the victors, while Treyvon Williams marked a team-best 11 tackles, including seven solo.
Both teams will wrap up the regular season on Saturday, as FIU visits Old Dominion at 3:30 and Marshall hosts Western Kentucky at 7 p.m.
Alex Hawley can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2100.