Redemption!

Franco Panizo

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — If revenge is sweet, FAU must have a mouthful of cavities.

Less than a year after enduring a historic loss to UAB, in which the defense surrendered a then-record 622 yards, the Owls returned to Legion Field on Sept. 2 to open their 2010 season against the Blazers.

The game wasn’t decided until the final play, when Blazers kicker Josh Zahn had a 28-yard field goal attempt blocked by linebacker Michael Lockley with five seconds left in regulation.

“I’ve hit balls before that have gone in, so as soon as I hit it, I looked back and FAU fans were cheering and I just knew we had won the game,” said Lockley. “It was the greatest feeling ever.”

For UAB coaches, players and fans, Lockley’s block resulted in several dejected looks, but for FAU, the scene was a festive one.

Players stormed the field, helmets were tossed into the sky and ear-to-ear smiles were sported as if FAU had won a bowl game. While some may deem the celebration excessive, it was understandable, considering last year’s struggles and the way this game played out.

The Owls began the match just as many pundits had feared. The new-looking, inexperienced offensive line couldn’t buy quarterback Jeff Van Camp or running back Alfred Morris time, and FAU’s offense was sputtering.

“They couldn’t block Tom Thumb,” said head coach Howard Schnellenberger of his offensive line’s first-half performance.

The defense wasn’t much better, as it allowed UAB quarterback David Isabelle to rush for 85 yards and two scores in the first quarter alone.

FAU managed to respond before the half was over, but it relied on the big play ability of Van Camp and wide receiver Lester Jean to do so.

Van Camp hit Jean with two touchdown passes in the second quarter, the second of which was a 77-yard bomb that Jean managed to reel in with one hand before racing to the end zone.

“That catch is the catch I keep telling him to quit practicing,” said Schnellenberger. “I’m going to continue to keep telling him because he catches more two-handed than one-handed. But sometimes God is gracious, and he was very gracious that that ball hit the center of his hand without any extraordinary rotation and stuck in there like a fast ball in a catcher’s mitt.”

Jean may have finished the game with nine catches for 164 yards and the two scores, but he wasn’t the only Owl to come up big.

With the score 28-12 in favor of UAB, safety Brentley Harstad had a hand in the Owls’ second-half heroics when he intercepted a pass from Isabelle and returned it 38 yards for a touchdown.

“He came down with [the ball] and looked like one of my bowling balls in the gutter, and it was a great, great play,” said Schnellenberger. “It inspired the rest of the team.”

On the Owls’ ensuing possession, Van Camp threw for his third and final touchdown of the night with a 43-yard touchdown pass to running back Willie Floyd. That brought the score to 28-26, still in favor of the hosts.

UAB tacked on three more points with a field goal in the fourth quarter, but that wasn’t enough to put the Owls to sleep. With less than three minutes to play in the game, Morris made a run that looks destined to be YouTube highlight material when he broke free of two tackles, spun out of another one and ran down the sideline before diving into the end zone. The 38-yard run gave FAU its first lead of the night.

“I don’t think any play in the past will top that one,” said Morris, who finished the game with 16 carries for 103 yards and the score. “Maybe one in the future will, but that was probably the craziest play I had so far in college.”

UAB refused to give up, though, and the Blazers drove down the field courtesy of a 50-yard run by Isabelle. That set up what looked to be an easy short-range field goal kick with five seconds left, but the Owls came up big once again.

As Zahn kicked the ball toward the uprights, Lockley got his right arm up, and that was enough to knock the ball off its course and give FAU a win.

“It’s great to win against them,” said Lockley. “They beat us down last year, everybody knows that. We wanted to come in and show them we could play with them and we did.”

FAU’s 1-0 record might look nice, but against better teams, like next opponent Michigan State, the Owls will struggle unless they fix some of their lingering issues — not least of which is applying pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

Still, the Owls showed enough resolve and big-play ability in the second half to warrant hopefulness from even the most pessimistic fans.

Besides, this wasn’t just a regular season-opening win on the road. This was the Owls’ exacting revenge in the most dramatic fashion.