Football: FAU snaps six-game winless streak with 34-27 toppling of Troy

Zack Kelberman

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For the first time in 28 days, the Owls (1-6) took the field in front of their own crowd, seeking to get off the schneid and eviscerate a six-game losing drought against the Troy Trojans (4-3) in FAU’s Homecoming Game.

And nearly two months after knocking off Wagner in the season opener, Owl Nation had something to cheer for, as FAU narrowly defeated the Trojans 34-27, and earned their first conference win in their last 15 attempts and the first home win against Troy in school history.

“We knew we was going to get a win because we kept fighting every week,” Owls wide receiver William Dukes said. “That’s why we didn’t stop working.”

With 17 seconds remaining, quarterback Graham Wilbert completed a 22-yard touchdown pass to receiver Williams Dukes in the corner of the end zone, putting the Owls ahead for good and cementing a much-elusive victory.

On that drive, which spanned nine plays, Wilbert drove the offense 74 yards down the field, completing six passes to his slew of weapons, receivers Dukes and Byron Hankerson, and tight end Nexon Dorvilus, who was celebrating his 22nd birthday.

This came after FAU blew a six-point advantage with 1:49 remaining in the game, as Troy drove 56 yards in eight plays to take a 27-26 lead on a 31-yard rushing touchdown by running back Shawn Southward. It was reminiscent of last week’s overtime loss to the University of South Alabama, when the Owls inexplicably blew a 14-point fourth quarter lead.

It was a nail-biter of a second half as both teams entered the third quarter tied at 17-17. FAU scored on a 47-yard field goal by Mitch Anderson on the first possession of the third, pushing the score to 20-17. He didn’t have the same luck on the Owls’ ensuing possession, missing a 39-yarder, but he undoubtedly improved on his horrific, three block-kicked game a week ago.

“It was just basically being more consistent. As a kicker, you want to be as consistent as possible,” Anderson said. “I didn’t really make any adjustments. It’s just going to the ball. Confidence. That’s really it,”

Later in the third, the Owls were set up with excellent field position following a Troy punt from their own 5-yard line, which was aided by a 15-yard kick catch interference penalty. Starting on the Trojans’ 29, Wilbert found receiver Jenson Stoshak for a 15-yard completion. Three plays later, Stoshak hauled in a touchdown reception from 7-yards out — the first of his career — to extend the lead.

The drive, though impressive, was not without fault, however. On the extra point attempt, the snap was muffed by holder Blake Bierman, who chucked up a desperation pass that was intercepted. Instead of a 10-point lead, the score stood at 26-17.

“The holder just dropped the ball. Right when he dropped it, he went out and tried to do something with it,” Anderson said.

Midway through the fourth, Troy pulled to within six points, 26-20, on a 17-yard chip shot by kicker Will Scott.

Despite blowing a sizable lead, the first half belonged to FAU, who on their first possession marched down the field on an eight play, 56-yard scoring drive, capped off by an 11-yard touchdown pass from Wilbert to Nexon Dorvilus. It took just 3:57 for the Owls to notch their first first quarter points of the season.

The Owls’ second possession was just as productive as their first. On the arm of Wilbert, who set the team up in scoring position with a 38-yard strike to Dorvilus, FAU went 72 yards in 3:05, needing only eight plays to reach paydirt. Dorvilus snatched his second touchdown from 9-yards out — the first time a player has scored two TDs in the same game — as the lead grew to 14-0.

It was a game of firsts, but not just for the home team. With 4:01 remaining in the second quarter, Troy’s Will Scott booted a 52-yard field goal through the uprights, getting the Trojans on the board, 17-3. It went down as the longest kick at FAU Football Stadium — impressive considering heavy wind was in his face.

Following the record-setting kick, Troy regained possession and scored six plays and 54 yards later, as quarterback Corey Robinson hit receiver Jaquon Robinson for a 20-yard touchdown, cutting the deficit to 17-10. After another FAU blunder — a fumble by running back Martese Jackson — Shawn Southward punched it in from 1-yard out, tying the game as the Owls’ lead vaporized.

The well-rounded performance by FAU surpassed several of their 2012 game-by-game totals. The Owls accumulated 421 total yards (besting their average of 311 per game) and scored 34 points (eclipsing their 16.1 average). They came into the night allowing 31.7 points per contest, so holding Troy, who had averaged 28 points per game), to just 24 speaks to their positive effort.

Wilbert was very solid, completing 26-of-40 passes (65 percent) for 261 yards and four touchdowns. He didn’t turn the ball over and efficiently managed the offense and controlled time of possession (36:01 to Troy’s 23:59). He was helped by an adequate rushing attack, as running back Jonathan Wallace ran for 87 yards on 24 carries (a respectable 3.6 yards-per-carry average).

“I’m just taking what the defense gives me. Guys around me are making it all easier,” said Wilbert. They’re making a lot of plays. The line is blocking great, we had a good running game tonight. It was a good team win.”

The win did a lot to boost FAU’s morale, and is something Carl Pelini and Co. can build upon going forward.

“I talk to our players all the time. We’re building a foundation,” Pelini said. “We’re not trying to win a national championship. We’re laying a foundation for the future.”