Smith Delivers Comeback Special

Owls rekindle magic of 2007 with winning drive in final minutes

jay warmAn

Sports Editor

Monroe, La. – Cortez Gent saw the outside covered and knew he had to make a quick decision. He broke off his assigned route, turned to the inside and Rusty Smith’s pass hit him right in the hands. It was perfect timing at the perfect time.

The 22-yard touchdown reception with 20 seconds left in the game sealed a comeback from a 21-0 first half deficit and gave the Owls a 29-28 lead, their first of the game.

“He gave me a corner route, but they had been seeing it all night long, so they did a great job of adjusting. The safety pretty much ran the route for me, so I just cut it back in and it so happened me and Rusty were on the same page,” says Gent of his victory-sealing catch against the University of Louisiana at Monroe. “All I seen was a flash and the ball, so there was no room for error.”

On the winning drive, Smith completed seven of eight passes and the Owls used eight plays to move the ball 72 yards in just 1:20.

The Owls fell behind by three touchdowns, lost a fumble and threw an interception amidst a penalty-filled first half. Trailing 21-7 as halftime approached, FAU safety Cardayle Brantley picked off ULM quarterback Kinsmon Lancaster. The play turned the game’s momentum and the Owls went on to score, narrowing the deficit to 21-14 heading into halftime

“It was a good job of the entire team staying positive – the morale staying high – and we were able to overcome the mistakes we made in the first half,” Smith says.

The win was reminiscent of the Owls’ comeback against Louisiana’s Ragin’ Cajuns in Lafayette last October. In that game, on a similarly cool night, Smith led a drive in the final minute to force overtime and eventually FAU pulled out the win at Cajun Field.

“I’m just playing to have fun. I’ve got a couple games left as a senior and I want to enjoy them. So when we get down, you can’t get negative,” center Nick Paris says. “All the times we’re winning and doing well, we’re having fun.”

First Quarter: ULM 14, FAU 0On a promising first drive, the Owls decided not to kick a short field goal and went for it on fourth-and-two from the seven. Charles Pierre was stopped for no gain. ULM quickly moved 93 yards down the field to take a 7-0 lead. On the ensuing kickoff, Jeff Blanchard fumbled and ULM took over at the FAU 28, setting up a score and a 14-0 lead.

Second quarter: ULM 21, FAU 14FAU scored two touchdowns and held the Warhawks to seven points to turn a blowout into a close game. FAU’s first score came when Smith snuck in on a QB keeper up the middle. Then Cardayle Brantley’s interception with 1:27 left gave the Owls the ball at the ULM 40. It took FAU just four plays and 54 seconds to score on a touchdown catch by Cortez Gent.

Third quarter: ULM 21, FAU 20The Warhawks fumbled on a botched handoff exchange and Josh Hancock recovered and returned it 34 yards to the ULM 48, and Warley Leroy made two field goals, from 37 and 36 yards. He added one in the fourth to make him nine-of-11 on the season. The Owls discipline finally tightened up after a penalty-riddled first half. Still, the Owls committed 10 penalties in the game for 136 yards lost.

Fourth Quarter: FAU 29, ULM 28The Warhawks opened with a drive that ended with a touchdown and a 28-20 score. Later, ULM punted and Tavious Polo fielded the punt on the run and weaved 48 yards to the ULM 26. FAU settled for yet another Leroy field goal, this one from 22 yards, to make the score 28-23. The Owls defense held fast and stopped ULM again, setting up the game winning drive with 1:40 left.

Quotable”It was very good for us to be able to come and get over the mistakes we made … We were able to overcome them and stay positive the entire game. Going into the halftime and being able to get 14 points was a very big momentum booster for us. When Cardayle came up with that pick and returned it a long way, and then we were able to get a touchdown out of that, it was very key for us going into the half.”

– FAU quarterback Rusty Smith on the Owls comeback from 21-0 down to win 29-28.

Key PlayRusty Smith rolled to his right and slipped a pass between two ULM defenders and into the hands of Cortez Gent for a game-winning touchdown. Gent read the defense and made a decision to turn inside instead of outside, as the original play call intended. Smith saw Gent make the read, and squeezed in the 22-yard throw to give the Owls their first lead of the game with 20 seconds left.

Game Info

Where: Malone Stadium, Monroe, LouisianaAttendance: 9,922Weather: 70 degreesRecords: FAU: 3-5 (1-2 Sun Belt), ULM: 2-6 (1-3)