On a cold, rainy night at the Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, Alabama the 2019 Camellia Bowl delivered a thrilling game that came down to the very end. The Arkansas State Red Wolves were able to hold off the Florida International Panthers late for a 34-26 victory. The Panthers had possession with :37 seconds left looking at having to go the length of the field from their own 12. Quarterback James Morgan was intercepted by Darreon Jackson to seal the victory for the Red Wolves. Both offenses were clicking for most of the night with Florida International gaining 444 yards and Arkansas State had 525. This was the sixth edition of the Camellia Bowl and the fourth win for the Sun Belt.
2019 Camellia Bowl Recap
The Florida International offense had some struggles early. The Panthers had to punt on their first three possessions, and Arkansas State came out on fire early in the game. The Red Wolves scored touchdowns on two of their first three possessions. On the first scoring drive the Red Wolves went 80 yards for 15 plays. The drive ended when quarterback Layne Hatcher connected with leading receiver Omar Bayless for a four-yard score. The duo connected a few times on the drive. Early on a third and ten Hatcher hit Bayless for 15 yards to keep the drive going. They also connected again for a 22-yard gain. The biggest play though may have been when Hatcher scrambled for 22 yards to get the Red Wolves to the Panthers 33.
It was a big night for Hatcher. He finished with 393 yards and four touchdowns. The Red Wolves took a 14-0 lead with :55 seconds left in the first quarter when Hatcher connected with Kirk Merritt for a 9-yard touchdown. Then the Panthers offense got going.
FIU quarterback James Morgan had one of his best games of the season on Saturday. Morgan threw for 312 yards on the night. That was his second-best yardage total with his best coming in an early season match-up with Louisiana Tech. In that game he passed for 394. The Panthers got on the board early in the second quarter when running back Napoleon Maxwell ran in for a three-yard score. On the next FIU possession the defense would bend but not break. Allowing a 46-yard field goal from Blake Grupe. Both teams would exchange field goals for the rest of the half, and Arkansas State took a 20-13 lead at halftime.
The second half opened a lot like the first did with the Panthers getting behind by 14 points. Hatcher connected with tight-end Reed Tyler for a 15-yard score for his third touchdown pass of the game. That play capped off an 11-play drive that went for 74 yards. Arkansas State would not score again until late in the fourth quarter.
The Panthers followed up by chewing up 7:15 off the clock but could not put any points on the board after a failed fourth and one attempt. Two plays later though Hatcher would commit one of his two turnovers when he fumbled while being sacked by Stantley Thomas-Oliver. That set the Panthers up at the Red Wolves 23, and two plays later put seven on the board. The Panther offense did not have many issues moving the ball against the Red Wolves but had to settle for five Jose Borregales field goal attempts deep into Arkansas State territory. Borregales made four on the night but had a costly miss late in the fourth quarter.
The Panthers defense put the clamps on the Red Wolves offense by forcing punts and intercepting Hatcher early in the fourth quarter. Rishard Dames stepped in front a Hatcher pass deep down the field at their own 33. The Panthers did well to move the ball again but had to settle for the final Borregales field goal. This one was from 52 yards and trimmed the Arkansas State lead to 27-26.
After the Red Wolves turned the ball over on downs FIU had an opportunity to take the lead. The Panthers made it to the 12-yard line but were unable to finish off the drive. This is where Borregales missed his only field goal with 5:10 left in the game. The Red Wolves would go on to extend the lead to 34-26 with 3:37 remaining. FIU would get two more opportunities but both ended in interceptions that sealed the victory for the Red Wolves.
2019 Camellia Bowl MVP
While Layne Hatcher had a great game, the Bart Starr MVP Trophy went to receiver Omar Bayless. Bayless is a name maybe not many have heard of, but he is one of the best receivers in college football. The senior standout came into the game with 84 receptions with 1,473 yards and 16 touchdowns. He added to that total with nine receptions and 180 yards. Plus, he started the scoring with his touchdown in the first quarter.