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.
ULM- 2-yard rush by K. Browning (J. Manton XP) 11-51 4:26 ULM 7-0
FIU – 11-yard pass from E. Hilliard to D. Jasper (J.Griffin XP) 18-88 7:49 Tied 7-7
ULM- 47-yard field goal by J. Manton 9-44 1:07 ULM 10-7
FIU- 22-yard field goal by J. Griffin 9-62 3:33 Tied 10-10
ULM- 36-yard fumble return by R. Young (Manton XP) 0-0 0:08 ULM 17-10
FIU- 58-yard pass from E.Hilliard to W.Wright (J.Griffin XP) 2-58 0:14 Tied 17-17
ULM- 15-yard pass from K. Browning to B. Leonard 3-25 ULM 23-17
Head Coach Todd Berry Quotes:
Overall feeling on the game...
"I'm very excited to win eight games. You learn in thisprofession that they are not always going to be pretty. They are very resilient. I wasn't happy with some of the plays, but happy with who they are as a whole. They just refuse to lose."
On the game being a defensive struggle...
"Yes. Both teams played well defensively. Wecaught them a couple of times in the backfield with our zone blitzes, and they certainly caught usfor negative yards a couple of times. We knew this game could be all about the defense."
Did it hurt the team to be one dimensional...
"Well, we've been one-dimensional for a few weeks now, actually. They gave us a lot of pressures, especially zone pressures, and we didn'thandle it well."
Was this game uncharacteristic?...
"Yes. Our offense struggled, which is uncharacteristic.Even some of the things we had to do on defense was uncharacteristic: they threw a lot ofscreens, which counters pressure from the edges, and we're a pressure team."
- ULM Captains: QB Kolton Browning (Co-Offense), WR Brent Leonard (Co-Offense), DaCorris Ford (Defense) and Brandon Hardy (Special Teams).
- ULM won the opening coin toss and deferred to the second half.
- ULM held FIU scoreless in the first quarter of Saturday's game - it was the fifth time this season the Warhawk defense held an opponent scoreless in the first quarter.
- With the win, ULM improves to 6-2 all-time against FIU - the 2005 win by FIU was later vacated.
- With the win, ULM improves to 3-1 in overtime games in 2012.
- Kolton Browning's first quarter TD rush was the fifth of the season for the junior and 16th of his career.
- Brent Leonard recorded his 90th reception of the season in the second quarter... With 97 receptions on the season he ranks third in the Sun Belt Conference single-season record books.
- Brent Leonard went over the 1,000 yard receiving mark in the third quarter to become the first ULM receiver to post 1,000 or more yards in a single season since Mack Vincent's 1,198 receiving yards in 2002.
- Gerrand Johnson's first quarter forced fumble was his second career FF... Isaiah Newsome recovered the fumble - his first of the season and third of his career.
- Emanuel Jefferies' first quarter sack was the first of the season for the junior... He added a half sack later in the game and now 5.0 career sacks.
- Ray Stovall's second quarter sack was the third of the season (and career) for the RS-Sophomore.
- Darius Lively recorded his first career solo sack in the third quarter... He also forced his first career fumble on the play... R.J. Young recovered the fumble and returned it 36 yards for his first career TD.
- Justin Manton's 66-yard punt in the first quarter was a career-long for the sophomore... The 66-yard punt is also tied for the 10th-longest punt in ULM History.
- Justin Manton's 47-yard field goal in the second quarter was a career-long - his previous long was a 43-yard FG at Iowa on Sept. 24, 2011.