BOCA RATON — Mother Nature wanted the FAU-FIU rivlry to last a bit longer.
A third-quarter lightning delay might have prolonged the 11th Shula Bowl, but neither team lost a step after a 35-minute stoppage.
Five post-delay touchdowns in less than a quarter of play brought plenty of insanity to what was previously an uncharacteristically sleepy Sun Belt Conference game, and FIU was able to hold on for a 34-24 win in what could be the final Shula Bowl.
How crazy was Friday night's game? FIU's right tackle had more rushing yards than the entire FAU team, the losing quarterback threw for 403 yards, and the game's major injury happened to a security guard on the sidelines.
So of course, a pedestrian 1-yard touchdown run from FIU's Kedrick Rhodes in the pouring rain proved to be the deciding score.
FAU (3-8, 2-5) kept it close with a career game from quarterback Graham Wilbert. But it was Wilbert's first interception 250 pass attempts, caught by FIU's Johnathan Cyprien in the Panther end zone, that foiled a fourth-quarter FAU scoring chance — an error from which the Owls would never recover.
"I'll probably think about it for the rest of my life," the deadpan Wilbert said of the interception.
FIU (3-8, 2-5) retained the Shula Award with the win, leaving FAU with only questions and regret.
"We left a lot out there," senior linebacker David Hinds said.
"We had opportunities," FAU coach Carl Pelini said. "We did things tonight that were uncharacteristic of who we've been the last four or five weeks. We didn't look like a disciplined football team."
FAU had six penalties in the game, the team's most since its Week 7 loss to Louisiana-Monroe.
FAU started the scoring after the lighting delay ended. The Owls took a 17-14 lead after a 1-yard touchdown run by Jonathan Wallace, set up by a 47-yard reception by William Dukes. The touchdown run came from the direct-snap wildcat formation, with defensive tackle Trevon Coley leading Wallace's way into the end zone.
But FAU only held that lead for 13 seconds, as Richard Leonard's subsequent 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown put FIU on top 20-17.
Jake Medlock's 15-yard touchdown pass to Wayne Times extended the FIU lead to 27-17, but at the start of the fourth quarter, Wilbert connected with Jenson Stoshak for the longest touchdown pass of the quarterback's career, a 60-yard toss. Wilbert's pass was deflected by Winston Fraser and into the hands of Stoshak, who ran the final 40 yards to score his second career touchdown.
Both Stoshak and Dukes had over 100 yards receiving, the first time FAU teammates have done that since the 2008 Shula Bowl.
FIU answered Stoshak's touchdown two minutes later, as the Panthers drove 75 yards on four plays, capped by Rhodes' touchdown.
While FIU rushed for 129 yards, the Owls had the third-worst rushing performance in school history with negative-12 yards total. FAU's all-time record in games in the rain dropped to 2-9.
The lightning delay came with FIU holding on to a 14-10 lead with 12:17 remaining in the third quarter. Before the delay, FIU took the lead by going to its book of tricks, unknotting the 7-7 first-half tie. Medlock's lateral pass to offensive lineman Rupert Bryan was good to score from 5 yards out and open a 14-7 lead.
Bryan, all six-foot-two and 280 pounds, lined up as the right tackle, which would normally disqualify him as an eligible receiver. But because the pass was backwards, by the slimmest of margin, Bryan's play was technically a rush. There are no restrictions on who can rush the ball, so the score stood.
A 37-yard field goal by Mitch Anderson would pull FAU within four points before halftime.
FIU began its first possession of the game backed up against it's own end zone. Nine plays later, the Panthers were in the end zone, as Medlock's 38-yard touchdown pass to Willis Wright opened the game scoring and finalized a 99-yard drive.
The opening touchdown came on a third-and-17 play, as Medlock kept the play alive with a scramble, allowing Wright to break free of his defender and steak up the sideline, unperturbed, for his fourth touchdown of the season. The drive was FIU's longest of the year — the Panthers had a 96-yard scoring drive against UCF in September.
After one of their worst offensive quarters of the season, FAU quickly shook their funk to start the second quarter, as Wilbert found Nexon Dorvilus for a 17-yard touchdown to knot the game at 7-7.
The Owls entered the second quarter with 28 total yards, but a 36-yard pass from Wilbert to Daniel McKinney pushed FAU across midfield for the first time. Three plays later, the Owls were on the scoreboard.
Wilbert's touchdown throw to Dorvilus was thrown with expert touch, as the six-foot-four tight end was able to leap over two defenders, Fraser and Chuck Grace, to make the catch in the corner of the end zone.
McKinney had 90 yards receiving.
The 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown is the longest play ever surrendered by the Owls.
Anderson's 45-yard field goal attempt to pull the Owls within a touchdown inside of the game's final 70 seconds went wide right.
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