FAU Football: Owls eke out a 28-25 victory against UTEP

This marks the Owls’ 12th straight win at home, ongoing since the 2019 season.


Eston Parker III

Zaire Mitchell-Paden (#87) recovers the ball for a touchdown after N’Kosi Perry fumbled it during a QB sneak play against UTEP on Oct. 30, 2021.

Cameron Priester, Contributing Writer

The Florida Atlantic Owls (5-3, 3-1 C-USA) beat the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) Miners (6-2, 3-1 C-USA) 28-25 in a sloppy home win on Howard Schnellenberger Field at FAU Stadium Saturday night.

“One of the true signs of a good football team is they find a way to win ball games even when they don’t play well,” said head coach Willie Taggart. “I don’t think we played well tonight; I thought we played undisciplined.”

The Owls started off slowly, opening the game on offense with a three-and-out. UTEP followed up the defensive stop with a 68-yard drive, resulting in a field goal to take a 3-0 lead with 6:41 remaining in the first quarter.

After another three-and-out by the offense, the Owls’ defense came up with a stop that forced UTEP to punt, aided by a strip sack from freshman linebacker Marlon Krakue.

On this drive, however, standout linebacker Caliph Brice went down with an injury to his right arm that had him sidelined for the remainder of the game. Brice was escorted to the locker room and later returned to the sideline with his right arm in a sling. 

“No, he’s not ok,” said Taggart when asked about Brice’s injury post-game as he will undergo an MRI on Sunday to determine the status of his injury.

FAU’s offense capitalized on the stop with a 55-yard drive, ending with sophmore running back Johnny Ford running for a 27-yard touchdown to give the Owls a 7-3 lead with 2:25 to go in the first quarter. 

Both offenses traded three-and-out drives, giving UTEP the ball at their own 20-yard line. The offense, led by quarterback Gavin Hardison, mounted a 10-play, 80-yard drive capped off by a 23-yard screen pass for a touchdown that reclaimed the lead for the Miners, 10-7.

Graduate quarterback N’Kosi Perry and the offense answered right back, ending a 10-play drive with a 39-yard touchdown pass to freshman wide receiver LaJohntay Wester, retaking the lead for the Owls going into halftime 14-10.

“It was huge,” said Perry on the touchdown to end the half. “We needed to get going [in] some type of way, and it happened to be a broken down play that turned into a scramble drill.” 

More than eight minutes into the third quarter, safety Jordan Helm made his first interception of the season, carrying the solid defense FAU had in the first half to begin the second.

Following the interception, the Owls were left with the ball on UTEP’s 13-yard line. Perry fumbled a QB sneak from the one-yard line, but tight end Zaire Mitchell-Paden recovered the ball in the endzone for a touchdown, pushing FAU’s lead to 21-10 with 3:27 to go in the third quarter. 

As the FAU defense forced UTEP to punt following an unsuccessful drive. Another forced punt by the FAU defense set up the offense for a long drive resulting in a one-yard touchdown run for redshirt senior running back James Charles, extending their lead to 28-10 with 10:57 left in the fourth quarter. 

On the ensuing UTEP drive, sophomore corner Romain “Smoke” Mungin came up with his first career interception. “Last year they called me ‘Almost’” — a nickname he earned by dropping interceptions last season — “They won’t call me that anymore,” said Mungin.

The Owls’ offense was unable to make anything of the interception with two consecutive three-and-out drives leaving UTEP with the ball on their own 18-yard line. With the help of a roughing the passer penalty on FAU, the Miners’ offense mounted a 82-yard touchdown drive that ended in a successful two-point conversion, which reduced FAU’s lead to 28-18 with 2:50 to play in the fourth quarter. 

UTEP went on to recover an onside kick, leaving them with the ball in FAU territory. After a false start left the Miners on a fourth down, Tyrin Smith caught a 49-yard touchdown pass from Hardison on busted coverage by the Owls’ defense. 

Despite that, the FAU defense held strong and kept UTEP at bay, leaving the score 28-25 once regulation ended. 

The Owls will remain in Boca Raton as they get ready for a home conference matchup next Saturday that has major implications for the C-USA Conference Championship. FAU is set to take on division rival Marshall at Howard Schnellenberger Field on Saturday, Nov. 6 at 6:00 p.m. The game will be broadcast on CBS Sports Network via Facebook.

​​Cameron Priester is a contributing writer for the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] or tweet him @PriesterCameron.