skip to Main Content

FIU Football — Playbook: The Dark Side of a QB Battle and Kris Mitchell’s Escape Game

Facing a 16-point deficit with just over two minutes left in the first half, a young and inexperienced CRF side could have fallen into a black hole that their more veteran counterparts from the previous two seasons had managed to find. time and again.

However, Mike MacIntyre’s side managed to fight their way to level the game at 30 in regulation time – followed by a thrilling touchdown and two-point conversion in the extra period to defeat FCS Bryant 38- 37. While there are still plenty of questions to be resolved in the extended layoff between now and next Saturday’s road contest at Texas State, several storylines have emerged from the first week.

Here’s my playbook of Thursday night’s four-hour, 18-minute thriller.

The dark side of a quarterback competition

As jubilation erupted from the sidelines and spilled over the northwest corner of the FIU Stadium following EJ Wilson’s game-winning two-point conversion reception, I made my usual trip from the pitch to the FIU press room located inside the Landon Fieldhouse.

The gate we use to access the pitch is located right next to the training and rehabilitation room inside the stadium.

Gathering my thoughts in preparation for facing what I imagined to be a thrilled Mike MacIntyre and quarterback Grayson James, the first face I saw after leaving the field and reaching the gate was starting quarterback Gunnar Holmberg.

The Duke graduate transfer was dressed in street clothes after being knocked out of the game with a concussion and looked outside the gate to hear the celebration, joined by his mother Jennifer.

Holmberg was named the starter on Monday by MacIntyre over a pair of former three-star recruits that Panther fans had reason to believe were the program’s future. After Holmberg’s blue-and-gold first half that saw him go 14 of 20 passing for 103 yards and just six points, a scattering of calls for Holmberg’s replacement could be heard.

Throughout camp, Holmberg, James and Haden Carlson have all spoken of the camaraderie within the quarterback room, though they’re all vying for which position only one will play.

“We all really support each other in this room and I feel like these guys are my brothers,” Carlson said during fall camp. “We have great chemistry and we just try to push each other to improve every day,” Holmberg said.

While no decision has been made on who will start at Texas State and MacIntyre said after the game that Holmberg’s health would be assessed throughout the week, Holmberg and James’ play will come under a microscope. even bigger considering Thursday’s game.

James’ 16-of-31 passes for 207 yards and four touchdowns showed a minimum of the highly touted player he was coming out of the Dallas area in 2020.

“Every time you lose a positional battle you don’t feel your best but I just wanted to go out there and keep developing every day,” James said. “Obviously you never want to see your teammate get injured, but the coach (MacIntyre) wanted us to stay ready and I’m just glad I was able to help the team.”

After the post-match presser, I descended the long staircase facing the entrance to the pavilion where friends and family usually wait for the players. Once they got to the bottom, the last face remaining was Grayson James’ mother, Ashlee – enthusiastically hugging her son following his media obligations.

Jackie Morgan, mother of former FIU quarterback James Morgan, told me following her son’s success at FIU that the hardest part of parenting a quarterback is to how badly you want him to succeed – and it’s hard to resist being teased when things aren’t going well. It’s not going well.

“It’s literally opposite ends of emotions,” said Jackie Morgan. “I’m emotional to talk about them because they’re so contrasting.”

This contrast showed itself to me in a period of 55 minutes after the comeback victory.

The perseverance of Kris Mitchell

After a successful prep career at Mandarin High in Jacksonville, wide receiver Kris Mitchell signed with the FIU as part of the 2019 class, choosing the Panthers over several other offers. He donned a redshirt in 2019 and spent 2020 battling for playing time among a host of FIU veterans.

In 2021, he was looking to emerge in the receiver rotation for the Panthers, but looked all but lost in the reshuffle with the breakout of Tyrese Chambers, the move of Caleb Lynum to receiver and the addition of Randall St. Felix. Mitchell would see action in 10 games with three starts, recording nine receptions for 158 yards and a score.

Entering his fourth camp with the program, Mitchell was dogged by an ankle injury in the spring and a concussion after being hit during an interception return during fall camp. Those injuries played a role in his position lower in the depth chart heading into Thursday’s game.

By the end of the night, Mitchell had two key touchdown receptions, helping to spur FIU’s comeback. After the game, he spoke about the challenge it was to stay locked up while facing the obstacles.

“I honestly didn’t expect it, coming in as two (receiver) and I wasn’t getting as many shots, but I stayed locked in and had the opportunity to make the most of it. “Mitchell said. “I battled an ankle injury and a concussion and I felt like things weren’t going well for me, but I had to keep my head up and keep fighting.”

Mitchell noted after the game that this season had seen him play for his fourth different coaching job in as many seasons.

“It’s been a journey, I lost my coaching job (Aubrey Hill), now on my fourth different coaching job (DJ McCarthy, Andrew Breiner, Jay MacIntyre) nothing can prepare you for this but I just happy to be here in this moment now after a win,” Mitchell said.

Back To Top