Smith sends FAU soaring

 

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Sunday, September 16, 2007

MIAMI GARDENS The post-game routine for Florida Atlantic players after playing power conference teams always has been to slink off the field and try to put the loss behind them as quickly as possible.

It was a different scene Saturday after FAU's 42-39 win over Minnesota in front of 10,759 at Dolphin Stadium.

 
 

After beating a team from a BCS conference for the first time, FAU (2-1) wasn't in such a rush to move on.

The celebration was on as soon as Owls quarterback Rusty Smith, who threw for a school-record 463 yards and five touchdown passes, took a knee on the final play. Smith's kneel came a play after freshman cornerback Tavious Polo pulled down his third interception of the game to kill Minnesota's final drive at the FAU 29 with 3 seconds left.

"When you are in the infancy of a program, a win over a Big Ten team is significant and I intend to make the most of this win for these kids," coach Howard Schnellenberger said.

The party wasn't contained to the field. Many players leaped the stands' railing to enjoy the school's biggest victory with fans.

"They had to make that 45-minute drive to come support us," sophomore receiver Cortez Gent said. "We didn't tear the goal posts down, so that was our way of showing our love."

FAU forced seven turnovers, including five in the first half. The seven turnovers tied an FAU record, as did Polo's three interceptions.

"We're not going to win a football game when we turn the ball over seven times," Minnesota coach Tim Brewster said. "My disappointment is with myself and with our staff."

The Gophers could not stop FAU's offense (580 yards), which went without a huddle and spread the field for most of the first half, capitalizing on what it thought was a speed advantage over the Gophers (1-2).

The adjustment worked as Smith shattered Jared Allen's single-game mark of 352 passing yards with nine minutes to go in the third quarter.

"We felt our personnel was better than their personnel," Smith said. "We thought we had trained harder, were faster, stronger and more athletic. We came into this game knowing that. It turned out to be true."

FAU needed every one of Smith's TD passes after its 18-point fourth-quarter lead nearly evaporated.

Trailing 42-24, Minnesota cut the lead to 42-39 with 3:20 left after Adam Weber threw fourth-quarter touchdown passes to Ernie Wheelwright of 13 and 8 yards.

FAU, which led 35-14 at halftime, needed at least one more first down. FAU got it when freshman receiver Lester Jean reached high to haul in a 17-pass on third-and-8 from the FAU 18, forcing Minnesota to use all its timeouts.

Earlier, Jean scored his first college touchdown on a 46-yard pass.

"This was a needed win," linebacker Frantz Joseph said. "There were stragglers who thought because they were a big-time D-I team we couldn't win, but this solidifies what we can do."