FIU beat Toledo 34-32 in a heart-stopping finish to the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl. Here is a quick instant analysis:
How the game was won: A wild fourth quarter ended with FIU winning the game on the leg of kicker Jack Griffin, who nailed a 34-yarder down the middle with no time left to give the Panthers their first bowl win in their first bowl appearance. Toledo blew a 24-7 lead and trailed 31-24 with 3:18 remaining. Quarterback Terrance Owens had thrown three interceptions to let the Panthers into the game, and now the game was on his shoulders. He drove Toledo down the field and scored a 14-yard touchdown on a zone read. Coach Tim Beckman did not hesitate to go for the two-point conversion. Owens threw to Eric Page to put Toledo up 32-31 with 1:14 to go and the Rockets appeared to be in control. But they left too much time on the clock. The Panthers converted a fourth-and-17 on a hook-and-ladder play to T.Y. Hilton during their final drive of the game. Another big pass play to Greg Ellingson put FIU into field goal range.
Toledo had run right over FIU in the first half to the tune of 205 yards rushing and a 21-7 lead. But the running lanes were not there in the second half, as the Panthers' defense tightened up, forcing Owens to throw the ball. FIU scored 14 points off Owens' interceptions -- Kreg Brown had two, including one in the fourth quarter that led to a 10-yard touchdown catch by Hilton. The score put the Panthers up 28-24 and it also gave them their first lead of the game. Hilton had a quiet first half, but his superb second half allowed the Panthers to come back.
Turning point: After Toledo went up 24-7 with 9:44 to go in the third quarter, Hilton returned the ensuing kickoff 89 yards for a touchdown. Owens threw his first interception to Brown, and FIU turned it into a touchdown when Darriet Perry took the direct snap and scored on a 7-yard run. The Panthers had cut a 17-point deficit down to four points in three minutes. FIU ended up scoring 24 straight points.
Player of the game: Griffin gets the nod for his dramatic kick to end the game. Special nod to Toledo running back Adonis Thomas, who had 194 yards rushing and two touchdowns, running for 145 first-half yards that gave the Rockets the early momentum.
Unsung hero of the game: Brown's interceptions helped FIU with its defensive turnaround. They were his first two picks of the season.
Second guessing: Hilton is one of the best kickoff returners in the game, and the reigning Sun Belt Most Valuable Player. So why did Toledo kick to him all night? He made the Rockets pay with his second kickoff return for a touchdown of the season and changed the momentum of the game. You have to wonder how Toledo lost track of Hilton and allowed him to convert the fourth-and-17 on the gimmick play. After a review of the spot, the ruling on the field stood and FIU was on the way to its win.
What it means: FIU had its first winning season but more could be on the horizon. The Panthers have 15 starters returning, including quarterback Wesley Carroll, Hilton and a running back trio of Perry, Darrian Mallary and Jeremiah Harden. What an incredible breakthrough season for Mario Cristobal, the Sun Belt Coach of the Year. As for Toledo, the Rockets were making their first bowl appearance since 2005, but should also be in good shape with coach Tim Beckman. This also was a breakthrough season for the Rockets. They return Austin Dantin, Page, Thomas and Dan Molls.