Owls' guts, stats, show they're in the game

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Friday, September 09, 2005

MIAMI GARDENS Up he jumped from the ground Thursday night, head bouncing in celebration like a Howard Schnellenberger bobblehead doll, helmet spinning nearby on the grass after getting knocked clean off in a collision.

This was Cergile Sincere's ESPN moment, and the former Glades Central High School star wasn't going to waste it.

"Us getting exposure like that, 98 million people asking 'Who is FAU?' and us being ranked 118th or 119th or whatever it is, this is the way we can show that we can play with all these Division I-A schools," Sincere said after Florida Atlantic's 23-3 loss to Oklahoma State.

"We've got a great coach with a great plan. When I got here, we were Division I-AA. No way did I think we'd already be where we are. I look forward to playing all the other non-conference games, like Minnesota and Louisville. I can't wait for that."

Think about it. What other program as fresh-faced as FAU lets a kid to introduce himself to America in such a way, joyfully dragging down a running back on one play as Sincere did and then riding herd on a wide receiver one snap later to bat away a pass?

Try that at Louisiana-Monroe or UTEP or Illinois State and the only people who are going to see it are close friends and family. Heck, not even TCU's monumental upset of Oklahoma last week was broadcast live beyond the immediate neighborhood.

It is Schnellenberger's magic touch that makes national television a reality for the Owls' program, born just five years ago and capable of luring just 16,421 fans to the most important game in its history.

It is Schnellenberger's bullfrog-voiced incantations that convince a band of dreamers from Palm Beach Gardens and Hallandale and North Miami and Belle Glade, unwanted by the heavyweight schools, that they should have beaten Kansas and Oklahoma State already, and should be ready to handle Minnesota and Louisville in the coming weeks.

I'll let you in on a little secret.

The Owls really did compete with Oklahoma State, and might well have put a scare in the soupy air without four fumbles that spotted the Cowboys a 10-0 lead and eventually provided them the breathing room that FAU's stingy defense wouldn't.

The final score won't get much play in this week's team meetings. Look instead to halftime stats showing that FAU was dead even in total offense. Look to first downs, a wash through three quarters. Check out the time of possession, 32 minutes to 28 in favor of OSU, further encouragement that the Owls didn't get clocked.

And keep pounding the rewind on that remote, please, so everybody in the darkened video room can see the sparkle of Shomari Earls of Palm Beach Gardens High School knocking the stubble off a Cowboys running back's face on third-and-short. Order up a few more looks at Danny Embick of Dwyer, too, scrambling for a long gain at quarterback and then leaping over a crouched defender like a steeplechase stallion at the end of the play as if this were the last game of the season, not the second.

Overall, there were rare instances to demonstrate an embarrassing edge in team speed or power on behalf of OSU, an Alamo Bowl team last year. The Owls worked hard on establishing a power running game, and kept right on working until the Cowboys actually began to cramp up and tucker out in the second half. This was no giggly vacation trip to South Beach. FAU kicked plenty of Florida Marlins infield dirt on the game plan of new Cowboys coach Mike Gundy.

In fact, it was Gundy who flinched first, playing super safe with a 13-3 lead in the final seconds of the half. He punted from the FAU 37-yard line rather than trying a long field goal or going for it on fourth-and-5. That's not the way a bully acts. It's the behavior of a big brother who has a little brother down at the moment but understands what can happen if the smallest fire is allowed to spread.

Only once did OSU put together a long, scoring drive, and that fourth-quarter effort resulted in a field goal alone.

"They're big boys," FAU defensive end Josh Pinnick said of the Cowboys, Barry Sanders' old team. "They're strong up front. They tried to push us around up there. But taking the ball all the way down the field and then settling for a field goal, that's not much to hang your hat on if you ask me."

Oh, now they're trash-talking, too, at 0-2.

FAU's Sun Belt opponents won't bring more than Schnellenberger does to the fight, however, and that starts right now, in a supposed rebuilding year.

Wait a few more weeks, when the opposition is cut back down to FAU's size, and you'll see.