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"I credit the kids in the fourth quarter," head coach Mark Whipple said. "They're doing a great job and the defensive staff did a really good job. The kids really battled all week in practice and they put a great plan together and, most importantly, the kids executed it. A really good win for us."
Joe Colton and John Robinson-Woodgett led the team's defensive effort, which kept FIU to just 3.0 yards per play. Robinson-Woodgett had a team-high and personal-best nine tackles, including a nine-yard sack while Colton added eight stops, including a pair of TFLs for six yards lost.
"Bottom line is we found a way to win," Whipple continued. "I knew they had a good week of practice. There was an anxiety a little bit on the sideline. I think it was kind of from the Temple thing, clearing our mind and now we're over that hump."
FIU quarterback Alex McGough went 22-of-34 for 115 yards and a touchdown, with Alex Gardner (10 receptions, 58 yards) his top target. Thomas Owens had the lone FIU receiving score. Gardner also led the Panthers' ground game with 59 yards rushing on 17 carries (3.5 per attempt) and a touchdown.
The Minutemen built their largest lead of the day with the opening 14 points on a pair of touchdown grabs by Michel and Sharpe. Michel hauled in a pass from Frohnapfel and raced through the FIU secondary for a 57-yard score with 10 minutes, 29 seconds to go in the first quarter.
Sharpe snagged his first TD with 9:28 remaining in the second for the 14-0 UMass advantage. A pair of unsportsmanlike conduct penalties by the visiting side set up the Minutemen in FIU territory before Frohnapfel found Michel for a 22-yard reception that moved the ball to the Panthers' six yard line. Sharpe converted on the next play from scrimmage for his first TD of the year and 12th of his career.
FIU cut the UMass lead to 14-7 through Owens' one-yard touchdown reception with 70 seconds remaining in the second quarter, but the Minutemen widened the gap back to 10 points with a late field goal.
Frohnapfel engineered the quick scoring drive as he went 4-for-6 passing for 36 yards and added an eight-yard first down scamper as the offense set up kicker Logan Laurent at the FIU 26 yard line for a 43 yard field goal attempt. The Temecula, California, native was unfazed by a five-yard false start penalty that backed his attempt up to 48 yards, as Laurent booted a career-long field goal with time expiring in the half for a 17-7 advantage at the break.
FIU kept play close with a 13-play scoring drive which culminated in Gardner's one-yard touchdown run with 20 seconds remaining in the third as the Panthers cut the Maroon and White lead to 17-14 going into the fourth quarter.
Defensive stops kept both sides off the board until Frohnapfel targeted Michel for the final UMass conversion. Michel capped an eight-play, 62-yard drive with a five-yard TD for his first collegiate multi-touchdown performance.
"When they scored and it was 17-14, we knew this was a time we had to score," Frohnapfel said. "We went right down the field, and they were giving us a good matchup on that play to Marken (Michel). It just felt great to be down there on that play with everyone being so excited. That's the reason we play football -- for moments like that. Winning is a lot of fun."
The UMass defense stopped FIU on its ensuing drive to prevent any attempt at a rally. Kelton Brackett stuffed Julian Williams five yards short of the down markers with a solo tackle on third-and-seven before Kassan Messiah and Trey Seals combined for a fourth down tackle of Gardner that ended the Panthers' drive.
"It's exciting," senior linebacker and captain Jovan Santos-Knox said on winning over FIU. "We had a game plan coming in here and we executed. That's always a great thing to do. To force as many punts as we did and have all these people step up, it's incredible to show how resilient this team is, so I am very excited."
The offense secured the victory with a game-ending 10-play drive that covered the final 5:16 of regulation. Facing fourth-and-five from the FIU 15 and in need of a conversion, Frohnapfel went to Sharpe seven yards out, which earned the Minutemen a new set of downs to run out the clock on their first win of the season.
UMass next heads to Bowling Green Saturday for its first Mid-American Conference game of the season.