by CFP Staff
December 27, 2010
FIU kicked a 34-yard field goal as time expired to win the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl 34-32 over Toledo in its very first bowl appearance.
The Golden Panthers used a hook and lateral play they call "Boise" to sustain the final drive and complete their comeback from a 24-7 3rd quarter deficit. The final 7:34 of the game saw FIU take its first lead at 28-24 and extend that lead to 31-24 with 3:18 remaining, only to see the Rockets respond with a touchdown drive and 2-point conversion to go back in front 32-31 with 1:14 left on the clock.
FIU's game-winning drive began at its own 48-yard line but quickly disintegrated into a 4th-and-17 before the hook and lateral gained just enough yardage for the first down and Jack Griffin kicked the game-winner four plays later.
FIU's comeback was fueled by three second-half picks, a kickoff return for a touchdown, and a blocked a punt that set up another score.
T.Y. Hilton's 89-yard kickoff return came after Toledo had extended its lead to 24-7 with a Bill Claus 29-yard field goal on the opening drive of the second half. Rocket QB Terrance Owens threw one of his three second-half interception three plays later and FIU only needed a 3-play, 23-yard drive to trim the deficit to 24-21 on Darriet Perry's 7-yard run, his second touchdown of the game.
The next three Toledo possessions ended with a punt and two interceptions, the last of which set up a 3-play, 37-yard drive that ended with Wesley Carroll's 10-yard pass to Hilton for FIU's first lead of the game at 28-24 with 7:34 to go.
A blocked punt on Toledo's ensuing possession gave FIU the ball on the Rockets' 30 and led to Griffin's 31-yard field goal for a 31-24 lead.
Toledo entered the game ranked 3rd in the nation in turnover margin at plus-14 while FIU was only plus-1.
It was a banner season for the upstart program from Miami which won its first Sun Belt Conference title (shared with Troy) and completed its first-ever winning season (7-6, 6-2 Sun Belt). The computer's preseason forecast, based on the Congrove Computer Rankings (CCR Top 120) forecasted FIU to go 2-10 overall and 2-6 in conference play.
Toledo fell to 8-5 with the loss in its first bowl appearance since the 2005 GMAC Bowl (now the GoDaddy.com Bowl). The Rockets' have dropped three of their last four bowl games to fall to 7-4 overall in such contests.
It was the fourth straight loss for a MAC team in this bowl game and the second win for the Sun Belt in the last three years. Florida Atlantic, FIU's rival from nearby Boca Raton, defeated Central Michigan in this game in 2008. The Sun Belt teams were slim underdogs on both occasions.
The game was played in front of a partisan Toledo crowd at Detroit's Ford Field.