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Post-game Q&A with Mario Cristobal

Can you put into words what you're feeling right now?

CRISTOBAL: "It was a very emotional and energized locker room. It was something we envisioned a long, long time ago when we first arrived at FIU. It’s been some tough sledding, and it might have happened a little bit ahead of schedule, but that’s OK. It allows us to set the standards really, really high going forward."

What was said in the locker room?

"It’s very personal, and it’s very real. One thing we did since the moment we got here was knowing it had to be established with a blue-collar philosophy. This didn’t happen today, or the pregame speech, and sure as hell not the walkthrough yesterday. This happened since January 4, and coming all the way through now. Relentless and endless work, and a commitment to being excellent. A nonstop desire to be real, real good and the ability to get better."

Can you take us through our game-winning drive?

"It was good to get a couple of penalties go our way, because we sure had some that hurt us earlier in the ballgame. Those yellow flags can really hurt you or help you. It kept the drive moving. The fourth-down pass was huge. Great catch by T.Y. One thing we’ve all seen is T.Y. Hilton has been a real-deal playmaker for us, but now he’s done it in crunch time. Again. Can’t say enough about him, resiliency of the quarterback, defense."

What was the menality on that drive?

"Often times think people think it’s easy to dominate. Sometimes domination doesn’t happen to that last play. You find a way to make the catch, that block, defend that ball, and you dominated that play. It was going to be a matter of responding. They were going to have their cannons loaded and shooting. And sure enough, they did. Caught us in some things. we found a way to respond."

How about the Hilton touchdown pass?

"It’s a jailbreak screen. Serini, I credit him. He did a great job. You want for a second, throw the D-lineman, and then take an angle to your defender."

How often do you it?

"Pretty often. Not enough, apparently. The whole country is running that play. A lot of times, it’s a feast or famine play. They were generating a good pass rush. We felt like we could slide it underneath."

Can you talk about how far you've come?

"The day I accepted the job, I told you I’ll see you in five years. And that was before we found out about the sanctions, lost scholarships. One thing I have learned, often times you get too much credit when things are going well, and you have to take the blame. But those coaches down there and that football team, the way they attack this thing on a daily basis. They have developed a culture and set a really high standard. Has to drive our new guys going forward."

Can you talk about the atmosphere, and were you disappointed in the crowd size?

"No, I think our fans are great. We’re building it little by little. Our players loved it. Football’s football. It could be four cats out in the stands or a packed house. We’re going to play football. And now we can say we’re playing FIU football."

It's official now. You're going to a bowl. what's the feeling like?

"Unbelievable. It’s really off the charts. Take in the moment. The whole validation of so much work, so much time. It’s a reward, but at the same time we have to realize we’re playing a good Middle Tennessee team. It’s a huge goal achieved. We’ve reached it. Now we have to set higher ones and bigger ones. You saw me on the field and we were going nuts out there. Because we had those 13, 14 seniors, they’ve been through the tough time."

Is it fitting it came down to the last drive?

"I think so. This team is hellbent on giving me a heart attack. They’re doing a good job of it."

Do you have a preference of which bowl you go to?

"This is so new for us. Honestly, our guys don’t know any better right now. All we know is they’re as excited as could be right now. There are so many families downstairs right now. It’s an unbelievable scene. It’s off the charts. Years and years of years of going through hell to get this done today. What they do know, Greg [Ellingson] will tell you, come film time. They’re competitors that are hungry. Without a question, we’re the greatest story in the country this year. In my humble opinion. Not just for me, but for these players. What they have done, and what they’ve gone through."


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