History, Just Barely

Cornerback Tavious Polo made a diving interception in the final seconds to end Minnesota’s comeback attempt and seal the most significant win in FAU history, 42-39. It was the Owls first-ever win over a team from a Bowl Championship Series Conference.

“I knew it was coming. I told my safety ‘the next time they run that hitch route, I’m jumping it, watch my back’ and then it happened and I jumped it,” Polo said.

Quarterback Rusty Smith used the best game of his career to lead the Owls’ prolific offense. Smith set school records in passing with 463 yards, and attempts with 44. He also threw five touchdowns.

“It was important to come out here and move the ball effectively,” Smith said. “We did that and our confidence went through the roof.”

Up 42-39 with 3:20 left in the game, the Owls (2-1) needed to keep possession of the ball and run down the clock. On third down, wide receiver Lester Jean made a dramatic catch, using every last centimeter of his fingertips to haul in a Smith pass to keep possession. The Owls ran the clock down to 44 seconds and were forced to punt. Minnesota then took over with 33 seconds to go on their own 25-yard line with no timeouts. They moved the ball into long field goal range and then Polo struck in the waning seconds, ending the comeback bid and ensuring the upset.

Polo had three interceptions in the game, tying a team record, and the defense forced seven turnovers in all. The Gophers had four consecutive turnovers during one stretch of the first half. Three were fumbles, including one into the end zone from the one-yard line.

The game got off to a wild start with each team scoring two touchdowns within the first eight minutes of the game. The Owls scored on their first drive, a far cry from their first drive of last week’s game when Smith was intercepted and Oklahoma State scored just 13 seconds in. This week Smith led a seven-play, 69-yard drive that took just 2:22 and ended on a rushing touchdown by Willie Rose. Then, the Gophers’ Jay Thomas ran back the ensuing kickoff 91 yards for a score to even the game.

On their first three drives of the second half the Gophers made it all the way down deep into Owls’ territory to begin their comeback bid from a 35-14 halftime disadvantage. On the first drive, the Owls defense bent but didn’t break and they held the Gophers to a field goal. On the next drive the Owls defense couldn’t hold and Minnesota scored a touchdown, giving them ten unanswered points to make the score 35-24. On the third drive linebacker Frantz Joseph came up with an interception, the Gophers sixth turnover of the game.”The second half was pretty scary, we knew they were going to come back fighting,” said linebacker Cergile Sincere.

Shut out 10-0 in the third quarter, Smith led the Owls on his final touchdown drive that made the score 42-24. Minnesota, despite the surprising numbers on the scoreboard, never gave up. They came right back with a drive of their own, cutting the deficit to ten with 8:18 left in the game.

For Minnesota (1-2), it was their third horrific defensive showing of the season against supposedly weaker non-conference opponents.

“We’ve got to find a way to figure out the best way for us to slow this thing down and give our kids on defense a chance,” said Gophers Coach Tim Brewster.

The receiving corps of Lester Jean, Conshario Johnson, Jason Harmon, Jamari Grant, Cortez Gent and Chris Bonner had their best collective game, helping Smith to his new record. Gent and Harmon both collected over 100 yards receiving, the first time the Owls have ever had that happen. Scoring touchdowns for the Owls were Rose, Johnson, DiIvory Edgecombe and freshman Lester Jean, who scored his first career TD.

“That wasn’t my first touchdown,” Jean said, “it was just my first touchdown playing for FAU.”

Rose’s two touchdowns were the Owls first two scores of the game. The second came on a broken play as Smith was about to be sacked. Under pressure, Smith lofted up a wobbly pass that Rose scooped up at his shoestrings and then disposed of two defenders on his way to the end zone.

The Owls usually employ a more conservative, pro-style offense than the Gophers’ spread-coast system, but the Owls were the ones racking up points in the first half with a spread and no-huddle style of their own.

“It was fun, we basically just tried to confuse them,” said running back Charles Pierre. “I guess they underestimated us and we got ’em.”