Football: Owls drop to 2-7 with 24-17 loss to Navy

Zack Kelberman

As we mentioned in our game preview, the Owls would need a picture perfect effort to knock off a Navy squad who entered Saturday’s contest winners of four-straight games.

Despite early indications to the contrary, FAU was anything but perfect in their 24-17 loss to the Midshipmen (6-3), falling to 2-7 on the year (0-6 on the road) and dispelling those good feelings from last week’s thrilling Homecoming win.

Down seven points, with 5:31 left in the game, the Owls took over on Navy’s 41-yard line following a missed 51-yard field goal attempt by kicker Nick Sloan. Quarterback Graham Wilbert moved the ball down the field on a pass to receiver William Dukes and was aided by a 15-yard personal foul penalty against the Midshipmen.

Stuck on Navy’s 22-yard line, however, Wilbert was pressured on consecutive plays, turning the ball over on downs which allowed the Midshipmen to run out the clock.

The loss, which knocks FAU out of bowl contention, can largely be attributed to a disturbing trend. The Owls blew an early 10-0 lead, allowing Navy to jump ahead 14-10 before the half on a 14-yard touchdown pass to receiver Brandon Turner and subsequent 1-yard TD plunge by quarterback Keenan Reynolds.

FAU would hang in there and make a game of it, though.

Trailing by two touchdowns, the Owls caught a huge break three minutes into the fourth quarter. On a bad exchange, Navy quarterback Trey Miller fumbled the snap and the ball was recovered by FAU linebacker Andrae Kirk on the Midshipmen’s 39-yard line.

From there, Wilbert connected with tight end Nexon Dorvilus for 13 yards and Wallace for 7 yards, as they had a first and goal opportunity on Navy’s 5-yard line. Two plays later, running back Jonathan Wallace punched it in for a 3-yard score, cutting the deficit to 24-17. It was Wallace’s second touchdown of the game and suddenly FAU had regained life.

But it was too little, too late for the mistake-prone Owls.

On the Midshipmen’s first possession of the second half, they marched 67 yards in nine plays, scoring on a 31-yard pass from Reynolds to Turner. It came on a fourth-and-8, with Turner beating double coverage to haul in the underthrown ball and reach paydirt.

Badly needing a matching scoring drive, the Owls proceeded to cough up the football on the ensuing possession. Running back Damian Fortner was stripped, and the ball was recovered by Midshipmen defender Kwazel Bertrand at midfield. That all but handed Navy the game midway through the third quarter.

Entrusting Fortner — and not starter Wallace — was a questionable decision by head coach Carl Pelini, one of several on a day that featured long field goal attempts and wildcat passes from short distances.

The Owls would hold Navy to a chipshot 20-yard field goal by Nick Sloan — extending the lead to 24-10 — but it was simply a formality. The Midshipmen had reeled off 24 unanswered points at that point as the third quarter came to a close.

With momentum firmly in tow, the Midshipmen rarely needed to look back, even in the midst of a brief fourth quarter scare.

Behind the vaunted dual-threat attack of Reynolds, Navy racked up 393 total yards, including 246 on the ground. Reynolds finished with 147 passing yards, 159 rushing yards and three touchdowns (2 passing, 1 rushing), looking dominant in front of the nearly 30,000 people who packed Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.

As is sometimes the case, this was a tale of two halves. FAU may have ended the game on a down note, but started out just the opposite. They held Navy to a three-and-out on its first possession and forced Sloan into a failed 45-yard field goal attempt, the first miss of the season.

Playing with intensity, the Owls were white-hot on their third possession, converting four third downs en route to a 15-play, 72-yard scoring march, capped off by a 1-yard Wallace touchdown run. Wallace (49 rushing yards) and Wilbert (9 for 10 for 56 yards) were the heroes on the impeccable drive, which put FAU up 7-0.

After a short punt by Navy’s Pablo Beltran, Wilbert again drove down the field on third down, completing a 15-yard pass to receiver William Dukes. A few plays later, kicker Mitch Anderson knocked through a 53-yard field goal, a career long for the junior and tied for the longest kick in school history (Mark Myers, 2003). The big boot gave the Owls a short-lived 10-0 advantage.

The Owls had some bright spots. Wallace set a career high with 111 rushing yards on 29 carries, Wilbert was solid, completing 25 of 35 passes for 205 yards, and Dukes again posted a solid statline (five catches for 75 yards).

FAU ran more plays (68), recorded more passing yards (205), and edged Navy in time of possession (30:22 to 29:38), but it wasn’t enough to overcome the Midshipmen’s elite ground game.

“We’re definitely getting better,” Wilbert said to the Sun Sentinel. “We just didn’t make enough plays today.”