7:00 PM ET, December 1, 2007
MIAMI (AP) -- As the clock was running out on a two-year losing streak, Mario Cristobal started jumping around the sideline with his Florida International players and assistant coaches.
You bet, and with good reason. FIU finally had something to celebrate.
Paul McCall threw for 228 yards and three touchdowns in his first start, and the Golden Panthers beat North Texas 38-19 on Saturday night to end major college football's longest current losing streak at 23 games.
Lionell Singleton had an 84-yard kickoff return for a score, Julian Reams added a 22-yard rushing TD and Audric Adger tied a school record with four sacks for FIU (1-11, 1-6 Sun Belt), which last won on Dec. 3, 2005 against Middle Tennessee State.
"We're not 1-11," McCall said. "We're on a one-game winning streak."
And they'll take that winning feeling into the offseason -- a huge boost toward Cristobal's rebuilding plan.
"These kids have been through a lot," said Cristobal, FIU's first-year head coach who got the requisite water-cooler bath with 1:21 left. "It's been a long, long time."
Giovanni Vizza completed 31 of 54 passes for 253 yards, including a 7-yard touchdown pass to Brock Stickler for North Texas. Jamario Thomas and Micah Mosely each had 1-yard TD runs for the Mean Green (2-10, 1-6).
North Texas coach Todd Dodge warned his team before the game to expect a desperate effort from FIU. Sure enough, he was right.
"How hard would you fight if you were looking not to go 0-12?" Dodge said.
It was the final college game scheduled for the historic Orange Bowl, the Miami Hurricanes' longtime home which will likely be demolished next year. FIU played there this year because its home stadium is being rebuilt.
"The Orange Bowl is a winner," FIU athletic director Pete Garcia said. "It deserves to go out with a win."
The Golden Panthers took care of that.
"I love this place," said Cristobal, who played at the Orange Bowl during his days at Miami and coached there with the Hurricanes as well. "It's the Orange Bowl. What else can you say?"
FIU went three-and-out on its first possession, then snapped the ball over punter Chris Cook's head to give North Texas the ball at the FIU 1. Thomas plunged in for a 6-0 lead, and Mosley added a 1-yard score later in the half for a 12-7 Mean Green advantage.
Singleton's big play, though, seemed to turn FIU's fortunes around.
"I saw the hole opening up," Singleton said, "and I hit it as hard as I could."
Not long after the return TD, McCall hit Trenard Turner with a 58-yard scoring pass with 3:50 left in the half for a 21-12 cushion. After North Texas fumbled a punt away during a hard rain shortly after halftime, McCall found Marquise Rolle for a 31-yard score and a 16-point lead -- FIU's biggest since Nov. 26, 2005.
"We had to get a win for the seniors," Rolle said. "It's their last game here at the Orange Bowl. So let's have FIU start something off. Let's be the big dog for once."
Vizza's scoring pass to Stickler cut the lead to nine midway through the third, but McCall quickly answered with a 23-yard touchdown pass to Jeremy Dickens that sent FIU into the final period with a 35-19 edge, and the countdown to victory was on.
"We knew we could do this," McCall said.
Southern Methodist, Idaho and Minnesota will take 10-game losing streaks into next season -- the not-so-proud owners of the longest current skeins in major college football.
FIU's losing streak tied Duke (1999-2002) and Northern Illinois (1996-98) for the seventh-longest in Football Bowl Subdivision -- formerly known as Division I-A -- history.
The major college record is 34 straight losses by Northwestern from 1979-82.
"It's a process, and we've come so far," Cristobal said. "You have to endure. We did. And this is incredible."
Team Stat Comparison
|3rd Down Conversions||6-18||4-12|
|4th Down Conversions||4-7||0-2|
|TD||13:46||Jamario Thomas 1 Yd Run (Pat Failed) |
Drive: 1 plays, 1 yds, :04
|TD||10:30||Julian Reams 22 Yd Run (Dustin Rivest Kick) |
Drive: 6 plays, 66 yds, 2:15
|TD||07:28||Micah Mosley 1 Yd Run (Two-Point Conversion Failed) |
Drive: 11 plays, 79 yds, 3:02
|TD||07:09||Lionell Singleton 84 Yd Kickoff Return (Dustin Rivest Kick)||12||14|
|TD||03:50||Trenard Turner 58 Yd Pass From Paul Mccall (Dustin Rivest Kick) |
Drive: 2 plays, 57 yds, :49
|TD||09:54||Marquis Rolle 31 Yd Pass From Paul Mccall (Dustin Rivest Kick) |
Drive: 2 plays, 29 yds, :43
|TD||04:56||Brock Stickler 7 Yd Pass From Giovanni Vizza (Thomas Moreland Kick) |
Drive: 10 plays, 69 yds, 3:07
|TD||01:44||Jeremy Dickens 23 Yd Pass From Paul Mccall (Dustin Rivest Kick) |
Drive: 8 plays, 60 yds, 3:12
|FG||11:54||Dustin Rivest 28 Yd |
Drive: 5 plays, 41 yds, 1:50