Football season ends on Saturday for FIU, but Panthers fans are hoping their school’s will end Soccer the journey is just beginning.
FIU 10th-seeded men’s soccer team (14-4-1) will visit seventh-seeded Duke (12-1-4) in a Sweet-16 NCAA tournament game Sunday at 1:00 p.m. Duke is unbeaten at home this year (7-0-3). FIU is going 5-2-1.
The last time FIU played Duke in an elimination game was in the second round of the 2017 NCAA tournament. Duke, the host team, never fell behind and won that match 2-1
In a rematch during the 2018 regular season, Duke defeated FIU 3-1.
Indeed, ACC teams were difficult for the FIU. Last season, the FIU lost 3-2 to visiting Wake Forest in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
However, in an interview with The Miami Herald on Wednesday, FIU coach Kyle Russell pointed out that his Panthers had picked up a 2-1 away win over the ACC’s North Carolina Tar Heels earlier this season.
“That was a good benchmark for us,” Russell said. “But we don’t care who they are or where they come from. We want to write new history.”
Perhaps the best quality of the FIU team is the altruism of the players.
For example, in Sunday’s 3-2 penalty shoot-out win over New Hampshire, Russell replaced starting goaltender Kevin Harr, a freshman, with Matt Levy just before the start of the PKs. Before the game started, Russell also benched starters Fumiya Shiraishi and Bernardo Dos Santos Monteiro.
“These were purely tactical decisions based on matchups,” Russell said. “It’s nothing personal. It’s just about taking our team to the next round.
“In (practices) Levy was very good at PKs. I told him about a month ago that if we get into that situation, I’ll go to him.”
The decision worked perfectly as the game ended with Levy blocking a New Hampshire penalty.
Now, if FIU can beat Duke, the Panthers will host an Elite Eight Playoff game on December 2nd or 3rd.
“That’s quite a carrot,” Russell said.
Meanwhile, the FIU football team (4-7, 2-5) will play its season finale Saturday night at 6 p.m. against Conference USA rivals Middle Tennessee State (6-5, 3-4).
The FIU, which has improved significantly from last season’s 1-11 record, is on a three-game losing streak.
Middle Tennessee, who have won two games in a row, are favorites by 19½ points.
The Blue Raiders have some impressive victories this year, including 45-31 over Miami; 24-13 via Texas-El Paso; and 49-21 over Florida Atlantic. UTEP and FAU beat FIU with an aggregate score of 92-13.
Raiders quarterback Chase Cunningham posted a career-high 448 passing yards and five touchdown throws in last week’s win over FAU.
Middle Tennessee also got 166 scrimmage yards and three TDs from running back Frank Peasant and eight catches for 95 yards from wide receiver Jaylin Lane.
Cunningham is fourth in the league for passing yards and Lane is third for receiving yards.
Saturday also marks the final safety game of Dorian Hall’s collegiate career. He spent six years of wild turnover at the FIU.
In its first three seasons, FIU made a bowl game every time, a first in program history.
But with one game left, Hall won 5-23 in the back half of his collegiate career.
“I’ve had ups and downs,” Hall said. “I will try to hold back any tears (on Saturday). I’m going to have fun, do everything I can and try to get one last win before I go.”
Hall, a criminal justice major who may become a border patrol agent or police officer if he can’t achieve his NFL dream, said he still remembers his first FIU game six years ago.
“The first play was so quick I was like, ‘I gotta buckle my seatbelt,'” Hall said. “As the years go by, the game slows down for you. Offense gives clues as to what type of play they will be running.