Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.


Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.


Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.


Owls’ Defense Dominates Early, Hangs on Late in Win

The FAU defense was overpowering early and stood its ground late to lead the Owls to a 27-14 victory over Middle Tennessee State in the season and Sun Belt Conference opener for both teams.

The Owls built a 24-0 lead in the third quarter but the Blue Raiders came back to make it a game with two quick touchdowns less than three minutes apart.

“As it was, we played well briefly early on and got a lead. They came back and made it close to being a game again. Then we were finally able to put the game away,” said Coach Howard Schnellenberger. “In total it was a very satisfying win for all of us.”

With just over two minutes left in the game and the score 27-14, the Blue Raiders threatened to score again with a chance to make it a one touchdown deficit. From there, FAU’s vaunted defense stood up one last time and red shirt freshman cornerback Tavious Polo came up with a decisive interception in the end zone to seal the win.

“I was really impressed with the focus we were able to keep throughout the game. I wanted the shutout really badly, but we had great intensity,” said defensive end Josh Pinnick, who recorded four tackles and combined on a sack.

Polo’s highlight-reel interception was the final play of an impressive outing by the defense. The whole unit was ferocious from the moment it stepped on the field for the first time with 7:24 left in the first quarter. The reason it took so long for them to get out there in the first place was because of an inauspicious beginning to the season by the Blue Raiders’ special teams. After FAU went three-and-out and punted, MTSU safety Kevin Brown accidentally touched the punted ball and FAU was able to recover on the MTSU 35-yard line.

“The big thing early was we got a stop and made them punt the ball away. We were going to have good field position and then the ball hits a foot and they get a short field,” said MTSU Coach Rick Stocksill, last year’s Sun Belt Coach of the Year.

From there, the multi-faceted FAU running game took control of the opportunity. Fullback Willie Rose carried the ball to the 17-yard line. Then four consecutive handoffs to Charles Pierre took the Owls into the end zone for six. Pierre ended the day with 95 yards rushing, Rose with 53 and B.J. Manley chipped in 64.

On the ensuing kick off MTSU All-American Damon Nickson let the ball slip right through his hands and the Owls recovered on the 28-yard line. From that point on FAU had trouble moving the ball on offense throughout the rest of the first half.

As the half neared a close, MTSU had the ball deep in its own territory. Electing to throw, trailing 7-0 and with halftime rapidly approaching, rookie quarterback Joe Craddock threw wildly and cornerback Corey Small cut in front for an interception that set up Warley Leroy’s 30-yard field goal, making the score 10-0.

“I feel that he continues to play at a high level, he is totally dependable, he is an intelligent player. He is like a doctor teaching the young interns how to operate,” said Schnellenberger about his junior cornerback who collected his fifth career interception.

Quarterback Rusty Smith had an uneven day, but he improved as the game went on. Smith ended up 12 for 26 with 195 yards in the air and two touchdowns. In the first half he was plagued by overthrows and dropped passes. By the third quarter, he had found a rhythm with his receiving corps.

“We just came out and decided that we were going to play better than we did in the first half,” Smith said.

As the third quarter wound down, the offense finally perked up. Smith engineered an 80-yard drive on just four plays. Tight end Jason Harmon and Smith hooked up twice, first on a swing-pass where Harmon turned up field and leapt over a tackler that went low. Two plays later Harmon caught a pass and dashed down the sideline for a 42-yard touchdown reception, which gave the Owls a 17-0 lead.

“Harmon is an extraordinary talent and we haven’t seen his best yet. He tried that hurdle a week or two ago [in practice] and he damn near cleared the guy tonight by three feet, he’s special,” Schnellenberger raved.

The FAU defense made a statement to MTSU and the rest of the Sun Belt in game one and in doing so made quarterback Joe Craddock’s first start a miserable one. Defensive end Robert St. Claire had a big game, recording 1.5 sacks for a combined 12-yard loss. Linebackers Frantz Joseph and Andre Clark led the defense with eight tackles a piece.

“The defense by far and away had one of their most stellar football games … they really dominated the game,” Schnellenberger said.

The FAU defense bent but never buckled in the first half, allowing only three first downs, despite MTSU acquiring some good field position.

The Owls lost wide receiver and return man Avery Holley to a left leg injury in the first half. Holley spent the rest of the game on the sidelines with a brace and crutches. He will be reevaluated on Tuesday after having an MRI.

The win gives FAU the inside lane in the race for the Sun Belt title. They will now rest comfortably in first place for at least three weeks, when conference play resumes.

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