Detroit Jack Griffin’s 34-yard field goal on the game’s final play gave Florida International a stunning 34-32 victory over Toledo on Sunday night in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl.
The Golden Panthers, playing in their first bowl, faced fourth-and-17 on their final drive before picking up the first down on a hook-and-lateral to T.Y. Hilton.
Replays showed he might have stepped out of bounds short along the sideline, but the play stood after a review, putting the ball at the Toledo 42-yard line.
Moments later, Wes Carroll found Greg Ellingson across the middle to the Toledo 22, helping set up the final kick for the Golden Panthers (7-6).
Toledo (8-5) had taken the lead with 1:14 remaining on a touchdown run by Terrance Owens and a 2-point conversion pass to Eric Page, but that was only part of a delirious finish.
FIU, in only its ninth season of football, trailed 24-7 in the third quarter before Hilton returned a kickoff 89 yards for a touchdown. The Panthers went on to score 24 straight points, taking a 28-24 lead on Hilton’s 10-yard touchdown catch and adding a field goal with 3:18 remaining.
Owens, who had thrown three interceptions in the second half, patiently led Toledo on a 62-yard drive that ended when he kept the ball himself for a 14-yard touchdown run, then found Page on a slant pattern to put the Rockets ahead.
FIU wasn’t done, though. The Panthers took over near midfield after Toledo went with a squib kick to keep the ball away from Hilton. Although a sack knocked FIU back, the Panthers still had one trick play left. After Hilton took the pitch from a teammate near the middle of the field, he cut toward his team’s sideline, trying to reach the first-down marker.
The initial ruling was that he made it, and the officials didn’t overturn it after the review.
It was a spectacular finish for a program that began the season dealing with tragedy after running back Kendall Berry was stabbed to death on campus.
FIU made the transition to what is now called the Football Bowl Subdivision in 2005, but the team has seldom had a chance to celebrate like this. Three years ago, FIU finally snapped a 23-game losing streak, and the program also had to deal with the fallout from a 2006 brawl against Miami.
Darriet Perry ran for 132 yards and two touchdowns for the Panthers.
Adonis Thomas rushed for a career-high 193 yards and two touchdowns for the Rockets, including an 87-yard touchdown run as Toledo built a 21-7 halftime lead.