FAU drops home opener with 42-35 overtime loss to Middle Tennessee State

Zack Kelberman

Running back Jonathan Wallace led the Owls with 85 rushing yards in Saturday's 42-35 overtime loss to MTSU. Photo by Michelle Friswell.

Running back Jonathan Wallace led the Owls with 85 rushing yards in Saturday’s 42-35 overtime loss to MTSU. Photo by Michelle Friswell.

For the first time this season, it appeared the Owls would win because of their quarterback –– not in spite of him.

But turnovers turned that into wishful thinking.

Despite a career outing by Jaquez Johnson, FAU (1-3) lost its 2013 home opener to Middle Tennessee State (3-1), 42-35, in overtime.

After winning the OT coin toss, FAU elected to start on defense, but surrendered a 19-yard touchdown pass from MTSU quarterback Logan Kilgore to receiver Kyle Griswould.

Having to score to keep the game alive, Johnson’s fourth down pass was intercepted in the endzone, cementing the Owls’ defeat and preventing their first winning streak since 2010.

“When we’re not shooting ourselves in the foot on both sides of the ball, we’re a pretty good football team,” FAU head coach Carl Pelini said.

Thanks to Johnson, who finished with 355 total yards, five touchdowns (three passing, two rushing) despite two interceptions, the Owls looked the part of a good football team for much of the afternoon.

The sophomore signal-caller led a game-tying drive in the fourth quarter, finding receiver Lucky Whitehead for a 21-yard score with three seconds remaining. This knotted the game at 35-35 as regulation came to a close.

“I just threw it right behind [a defender] and Lucky ran to it,” Johnson said.

FAU had to rally because Johnson threw his first pick, which led to a 64-yard touchdown run by MTSU running back Reggie Whatley on the very next play, giving the Blue Raiders a 35-28 advantage.

The Owls trailed for much of the fourth quarter, until Johnson connected with wide receiver Daniel McKinney for a seven-yard score, tying the tilt at 28-28 with 3:50 remaining.

Both teams scored just one touchdown in the third quarter –– MTSU on a two-yard touchdown pass and FAU on a three-yard touchdown run.

FAU opened the second half trailing 14-7, but put together an 11-play, 77-yard scoring drive, capped off by a seven-yard TD run by Johnson.

The game’s first half featured less scoring, but saw FAU rally on its first occasion.

Losing 7-0 after the first quarter, Owls defensive back Damian Parms intercepted a Blue Raiders pass, setting up the Owls with first and goal. From there, Johnson connected with receiver Dukes from eight yards out. It was Johnson’s first touchdown pass as an Owl, and Dukes’ second score of the season.

Johnson set a FAU record with 65 total offensive plays, besting former quarterback Rusty Smith’s mark of 54, set in 2007.

“We just executed the gameplan,” Johnson said. “We wanted to come out with a lot of quick passes, and I was just trying to execute the offense.”

Although FAU trumped MTSU in three key categories –– total yards (503 to 446), first downs (28 to 21) and time of possession (32:11 to 27:49) –– the Blue Raiders benefited from a dominant rushing attack (296 yards to 182) and FAU’s five turnovers (three fumbles and two interceptions).

“How many times today did we take the momentum back and didn’t capitalize on it?” Pelini said.

Despite the offensive outburst, Johnson would prefer to win rather than pad his stats.

“Last week [against USF] was way better than this,” Johnson said. “I’d rather have zero passing yards and we win the game.”

Owls linebacker Andrae Kirk, who led with the team with 11 tackles, was more direct when discussing this defeat.

“It hurts, it hurts a lot,” Kirk said.