ULM downs FIU 23-17 in OT

MIAMI -- ULM edged FIU 23-17 in overtime to spoil the Panther's senior night in the regular season finale at Alfonso Field in Miami on Saturday night. The Warhawks (8-4, 6-2) had to use a 15-yard Kolton Browning touchdown pass to Brent Leonard on their first possession of overtime to get past FIU (3-9, 2-6) after giving up a game-tying touchdown pass with 14 seconds left in the game.
The Warhawks were led on offense by senior wide receiver Leonard, who caught 13 passes for 98 yards and the game-winning touchdown. Browning finished the game 31 of 38 for 218 yards and the touchdown. Junior defensive lineman Emmanuel Jefferies led the ULM defense, posting 1.5 sacks and three tackles for loss. Sophomore place kicker Justin Manton also had a big day for the Warhawks, nailing a 47-yard field goal and racking up 342 punting yards.
In a losing effort, the Panthers were led by freshman quarterback E.J. Hilliard's 226 passing yards and two touchdowns. Junior wide receiver Willis Wright caught two balls for 78 yards and scored the game-tying touchdown at the end of regulation.
The contest started rather inauspiciously. After the Warhawks forced a quick three and out on the Panther's first possession, ULM's offense got the squad on the board quickly. Browning completed passes to four different receivers before scoring on a two-yard keeper to cap an 11 play, 51 yard drive to give the visitors an early 7-0 lead with nine minutes left in the first quarter.
FIU running back Darian Mallary broke through the Warhawk defense on the Panther's next possession for a 59-yard carry to move the ball to the ULM 12-yard line, but senior lineman Gerrand Johnson forced a fumble two plays later that junior Isaiah Newsome pounced on to end the FIU threat.
The ULM defense and special teams continued to control the first quarter, holding FIU scoreless through the first 29 minutes of play. Manton forced the Panthers to start drives deep in their own territory with a trio of mammoth punts, including a career long 66-yarder to end the quarter.
Sacks by Jefferies, Joey Gautney, and Ray Stovall helped keep the Panther attack in check until the 1:08 mark in the second quarter. FIU's Hilliard found wide receiver De'Andre Jasper on an 11-yard strike to cap an 18 play, 88-yard drive to tie the game at seven. The ULM offense, dormant most of the second quarter, returned to the field and quickly drove 44 yards to set up a career long 47-yard field goal by Manton that gave the Warhawks a 10-7 halftime lead.
The third quarter featured a series of punts by each team before FIU, spurred by a 45-yard pass from Hilliard to wide receiver T.J. Lowder, evened the score at ten on a 22-yard field goal from senior Jack Griffin with 1:58 left in the quarter. While the ULM offense continued to scuffled, the Warhawk defense sterling play continued on the next FIU possession. Sophomore defensive lineman Darius Lively hit Hilliard as he dropped back to throw, forcing a fumble. Warhawk senior R.J. Young scooped up the pigskin and rumbled 36 yards into the endzone to give ULM a 17-10 lead.
The ULM defense bent, but did not break in the fourth. The Panthers drove down to the ULM 36-yard line to start the fourth quarter before the Warhawk defense stiffened and forced a punt. After the teams traded punts again, ULM drove across the 50 yard line after Browning completed first down passes to Tavarese Maye and Je'Ron Hamm. On third and 13, with FIU out of timeouts and 28 seconds on the clock, Browning was hit while in victory formation and the ensuing fumble was recovered by FIU's Josh Forney. After an incomplete pass, Hilliard found receiver Willis Wright for a 56-yard touchdown pass down the visitors sideline. Griffin's point after tied the game at 17, and forced overtime.
ULM won the toss and elected to begin overtime on defense. The Panthers moved the ball down to the ULM seven-yard line on a completion to Wayne Times, but a botched snap and a DaCorris Ford sack forced FIU back to the ULM 24. The Panthers were forced to lineup for a field goal, but Griffin's 41-yard attempt was blocked by freshman wide receiver Tony Cook.
Browning started ULM's possession with an 8-yard completion to Leonard before keeping for a first down on a quarterback draw. Browning then found Leonard on a 15-yard slant into the endzone to give the Warhawks the win.
ULM wrapped up its regular season with eight wins, the team's highest total since 1993.