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FIU battles back but can’t overcome Arkansas State in Camellia Bowl

Panthers finish with losing season

Arkansas State linebacker Caleb Bonner hits FIU wide receiver Shemar Thornton during the Camellia Bowl, Dec. 21, 2019, in Montgomery, Alabama.
Arkansas State linebacker Caleb Bonner hits FIU wide receiver Shemar Thornton during the Camellia Bowl, Dec. 21, 2019, in Montgomery, Alabama. (Getty Images)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Layne Hatcher passed for 393 yards and four touchdowns, including a late 13-yarder to Jonathan Adams, and Arkansas State held to beat Florida International 34-26 on Saturday night in the Camellia Bowl.

The Red Wolves (8-5) came back to life offensively for a final big drive, highlighted by All-American and game MVP Omar Bayless’s 52-yard catch down to the 12. Then they had two interceptions in the final minutes.

The Panthers (6-7) converted a fourth-and-5 play with a pass to Austin Maloney, who matched the huge game of Bayless. But James Morgan’s overthrow on the next play was intercepted by Jeremy Smith, who returned it 21 yards into FIU territory.

Arkansas State worked the clock down to 37 seconds and a punt left FIU starting at its 12 with no timeouts remaining. The Panthers got one first down on a pass interference call against Logan Wescott, who tipped the next pass into the arms of Darreon Jackson to seal the win.

Hatcher completed 27 of 51 passes and had an interception. Bayless, the nation’s No. 2 receiver, caught nine passes for 180 yards and a touchdown.

Morgan passed for 312 yards and a touchdown before the ending interceptions. Maloney caught 10 passes for 178 yards and the TD.

FIU had a chance to take its first lead but Jose Borregales’ 29-yard field goal attempt went wide left with 5:10 left. Borregales had already made four attempts, including a 48-yarder and 52-yarder in a four-minute span extending into the fourth quarter.

The nation’s No. 2 receiver, Bayless then delivered two big plays deep into FIU territory. The first was negated by a personal foul against Javonis Isaac for a blind-side block.

Then Bayless delivered again, stepping out of a defender’s grasp along the left sideline on his way to the final big gain.

FIU had cut a 14-point deficit down to seven after Sage Lewis forced and recovered a fumble by Hatcher. FIU’s offense captailized with Morgan’s 19-yard touchdown to Austin Maloney.

Jose Borregales kicked field goals of 48 and 52 yards in a four-minute span, with the latter cutting it to 27-26 with 11:52 to play. It was set up by Rishard Dames’ interception of an underthrown ball one play after Arkansas State converted a fourth-down play in its own territory.

The Red Wolves then failed to score on the fourth straight possession. Hatcher’s fourth-down pass to Bayless under pressure fell short.