Commentary: With 24-17 loss at Navy, FAU ineligible for postseason, but have positives to build on for next season

Rolando Rosa

FAU football is now officially eliminated from the postseason, but a nationally televised audience learned the Owls won’t roll over for the final quarter of the year.

It took Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds running the clock out to give the Midshipmen a 24-17 victory in Annapolis, Md. Saturday afternoon.

Owls’ head coach Carl Pelini and Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo exchanged the typical greeting at midfield, but the Midshipmen barely eked out a victory over a team with three wins in the past two seasons.

“If you’d of told me at the beginning of the season that we’d come to Navy and take it down [to the last drive],” Pelini said to the Sun Sentinel, “you’d call me crazy.”

Even after a Homecoming victory, most people (including myself) would have called Pelini insane had he presented that scenario before the contest.

For FAU’s first game of the season, I wrote about the win that felt like a loss. Well, this was the loss that felt like a win.

“That’s a handshake and a look of relief,” CBS color commentator Todd Christensen said afterwards.

FAU stormed out to a 10-0 lead in the second quarter behind the rushing brilliance of Owls’ running back Jonathan Wallace (career-high 111 rushing yards, to go with two touchdowns). This was setting up to be Carl Pelini’s signature win of the season.

Here’s some examples of the eye-popping stats from the Owls to begin the game:

FAU gobbled up 18:34 time of possession in the first half.

Quarterback Graham Wilbert continued his revival with 205 yards on 25-35 completions.

The Owls went 4-4 on third down in the drive that gave them a 7-0 lead in the second quarter on a Wallace wildcat run.

“Coach Niumatalolo must be going, Wait a minute, where’s my Navy team?” Announcer Grant Boone said.

Right on cue, though, the Midshipmen would respond with 24 unanswered points to head into the final quarter up by a pair of touchdowns. Navy was cruising to their sixth win of the season, but when Keenan Reynolds went out with a hyperextended elbow midway through the fourth quarter, it gave the Owls new life.

On the very next play, FAU defender Andrae Kirk forced a fumble of backup quarterback Trey Miller.

Then Wallace punched in a 3-yard TD run to cut the deficit to 24-17 with 9:07 left in the game.

On the ensuing drive, Navy kicker Nick Sloan missed a 51-yard FG that would have iced the game. He looked bewildered at the second missed kick of the game. Sloan, who also shanked a kick earlier, hadn’t missed a FG or extra point all season.

So even though DeAndre Williams’ false start penalty on third-and-6 in Navy territory with just under five minutes set up an impossible fourth-and-11 for Wilbert to convert (it ended up being an incomplete pass), there are positives to take from this performance.

The biggest one is the fact FAU has established their workhorse running back.

The Owls jumped out to their lead by beating Navy at their own game. The Midshipmen entered the contest ranked No. 6 in the country in rushing. However, it was Wallace who was the best running back on the field.

The play of Wallace even had the Navy broadcast team impressed.

“It’s the Jonathan Wallace show,” announcer Grant Boone said.

“It’s like that rash that won’t go away,” Todd Christensen said of Wallace’s ground assaults. “What? That guy again?”

For the final three weeks of the season, that’s exactly what opposing teams will say of the Owls.

And nobody should be surprised by that anymore.