Nassau, Bahamas — FIU fumbled away the opening kickoff, gave up a touchdown 23 seconds into the game and found itself trailing by double digits by the end of the first quarter.
They needed a comeback.
And Anthony Jones might know more about comebacks than anyone on the FIU roster.
Jones — one of two FIU players who were victims of a drive-by shooting in September — rushed for three touchdowns, including the clincher with 41 seconds remaining as the Panthers topped Toledo, 35-32, on Friday in the Bahamas Bowl. Jones tied a school record with the three scores, and FIU (9-4) set a school record with its ninth win of the season.
“I’m extremely happy for my teammates, these seniors, all my coaches, the support staff at FIU, they were all behind me the whole time,” Jones said. “I’ve been extremely blessed by the man above.”
Jones and offensive lineman Mershawn Miller were shot in the city of Opa-locka, Fla. — just north of downtown Miami — on the afternoon of Sept. 6. The alleged gunman is in custody and is facing two counts of attempted first-degree murder. Miller was hit in the arm; Jones was shot in the back and the bullet exited just under his eye. He lost about 20 pounds in the days afterward, during which he was fed by tube.
“This is a gift from God,” FIU coach Butch Davis said.
Eli Peters had three touchdown passes and threw for 264 yards for Toledo (7-6), which fell in a bowl game for the third consecutive year.
Jon’Vea Johnson had two of those TD grabs, and Diontae Johnson had six catches for 98 yards and a score for the Rockets. It was FIU’s second bowl victory. The other came in 2010 — also against Toledo.
“It’s been an up-and-down year,” Toledo coach Jason Candle said. “It has had its highlights, and its moments where we weren’t so good. Consistency is everything in college football. … You have to be really consistent, really good at what you do for the long haul and there were times this year that we didn’t handle that so well.”
Jones scored on runs of 6, 30 and 18 yards. Sterling Palmer caught a touchdown pass and Maurice Alexander rushed for another score for FIU.
Christian Alexander completed 17 of 26 passes for 209 yards and a TD for FIU. The Panthers got a huge fourth-down conversion on a pass hauled in by Tony Gaiter IV with 2:40 remaining, the biggest play in a drive where Jones capped the win with his final TD run – the 18-yarder that sealed the win.
FIU played without starting quarterback James Morgan, who has an arm injury. Morgan completed 65 percent of his passes for 2,727 yards and 26 touchdowns in the regular season. FIU also didn’t have running back Shawndarrius Phillips, who was left home after a domestic battery charge stemming from a June case became known this month.
And yet, the Panthers had more than enough.
They got on the board when Jones got his first rushing score of the day early in the second quarter, took a 14-10 lead into the half and grabbed the lead for good on Jones’ 30-yard run with 3:47 left in the third quarter.
“We just played as a team today, man,” Jones said. “Our coaches did a great job preparing us for this bowl game. H
“Hats off to Toledo, but we did a great job today. We made history today.”
The Rockets scored with two seconds remaining on a 43-yard touchdown pass from Peters to Jon’Vea Johnson, a play where the clock originally ran down to zero before some time was added. The Rockets then tried an onside kick, which FIU linebacker Sage Lewis recovered.
Meyer’s next gig
Retired Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, who was suspended the first three games of the season for how he handle alleged domestic-abuse allegations against a former assistant coach, is set to teach a course at Ohio State. The subject matter: Character and leadership.
Meyer’s last game will be the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1.
SATURDAY'S BOWL GAMES
Wake Forest (6-6) vs. Memphis (8-5)
Line: Memphis by 3½
Series record: Tied at 2
Key matchup: Memphis’s short-handed running game against Wake Forest’s defense. The Tigers rank second nationally in rushing offense, but will be without unanimous All-American RB Darrell Henderson. Wake Forest is 10th in the Atlantic Coast Conference in run defense, allowing 191.3 yards per game and 29 touchdowns on the ground.
Armed Forces Bowl
Houston (8-4) vs. No. 22 Army (10-2)
Line: Army by 5
Series record: Houston leads 5-2
Key matchup: Army’s triple-option rushing game against Houston’s defense made more porous without Ed Oliver, who missed four games because of a bruised right knee and decided to skip to the bowl to focus on the NFL Draft. The Black Knights led the nation in rushing last season and are second this year with 296 yards per game. The Cougars are 98th among FBS teams in rushing defense, allowing 197 yards per game. Five of the last six opponents have run for more than 200 yards, including Navy’s 344.
Dollar General Bowl
Buffalo (10-3) vs. Troy (9-3)
Line: Buffalo by 1½
Series record: First meeting
Key matchup: Buffalo QB Tyree Jackson (Muskegon) vs. Troy’s defense: The Bulls have already scored 452 points this season, which is the most in school history. Jackson has thrown for 2,857 yards and 27 touchdowns this year and also run for seven touchdowns. Troy has forced 27 turnovers this season, which is tied for fifth nationally, and is giving up just 21 points a game.
Louisiana Tech (7-5) vs. Hawaii (8-5)
Line: Hawaii by 1
Series record: Hawaii leads 8-2
Key matchup: Hawaii QB Cole McDonald vs. Louisiana Tech secondary. McDonald has thrown for 300 or more yards seven times this season and eclipsed the 400-yard mark in three games. His 3,790 passing yards rank fifth nationally and his 35 passing TDs, seventh. He will be tested by a Bulldogs pass defense that allows just 193.6 yards per game, good for 28th in the country.