Owls sputter against equally flat Cajuns

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Thursday, October 19, 2006

UPDATED: 1:22 a.m. October 19, 2006

FORT LAUDERDALE Florida Atlantic waited until the end of the game for the one offensive play that would have made the difference Wednesday night against Louisiana-Lafayette.

It nearly happened on the last play, but FAU quarterback Rusty Smith's pass, intended for Frantz Simeon, was knocked away by Louisiana-Lafayette cornerback Michael Adams in the end zone as FAU lost 6-0 to the Ragin' Cajuns in front of 9,827 at Lockhart Stadium.

"It looked like we had manufactured an opportunity to win a game that we had given away," FAU coach Howard Schnellenberger said. "We almost got a presidential pardon and we didn't execute to win the game. ... That's what makes the difference between winning the national championship and finishing second best."

The Owls (2-5, 1-1 Sun Belt) turned over the ball four times vs. the Ragin' Cajuns, the pre-season Sun Belt Conference favorite.

While FAU's offense failed to show up for most of the game, its defense was stellar.

Louisiana-Lafayette came into the game having averaged 310 yards per game, including 209 yards on the ground. The Owls held the Cajuns to 228 yards, including 144 rushing yards and 11 first downs.

"The defense played almost a perfect game," linebacker Cergile Sincere said. "We just came up short, but we played well."

The loss snapped FAU's two-game winning streak.

The Owls took over the ball on their own 37-yard line with 1:10 remaining, knowing they needed a touchdown to win the game.

With :02 remaining, FAU drove the ball to the 8-yard line, where Smith, who was 5-of-8 for 53 yards on the drive, threw the ball to the back of the end zone, where it was knocked away from Simeon by Adams.

"We thought we had it," said Smith, who was 10-of-19 for 88 yards. "That last drive was really, really strong. We got close and they guy made a real good play on the ball."

Louisiana-Lafayette (4-2, 1-0) took control early, after Gerren Blount intercepted a pass that was tipped in the air by Owls receiver Casey McGahee.

The turnover resulted in a 3-0 lead for Louisiana-Lafayette on a 44-yard field goal by Drew Edmiston early in the second quarter.

The score remained 3-0 at halftime.

On the Cajuns' first possession of the second half, Edmiston made a 43-yard field goal that gave Louisiana-Lafayette a 6-0 lead with 11:11 remaining in the third quarter.

The Owls offense got in gear on its next possession, when Smith, who entered in the second half, led FAU down the field.

Smith connected with tight end Jamari Grant on an 18-yard pass to the Cajuns' 28, but the play was brought back by a holding penalty.

The Owls failed to come away with any points on the drive as Louisiana-Lafayette's Korey Raymond blocked a 41-yard field-goal attempt with less than five minutes remaining in the third quarter.

The Owls regained possession when Sincere forced a fumble by receiver Derrick Smith that was recovered by linebacker Frantz Joseph at the 36-yard line and returned to the Cajuns' 23 .

The Cajuns forced the Owls to turn over the ball for a fourth time when defensive end Greg Hathorn got to Smith and knocked the ball out of his hands, recovering it in the air at the FAU 39-yard line with 2:05 remaining.

The Owls defense stopped the Cajuns on fourth down with just more than a minute to set up a potential game-winning drive.

The Owls drove 55 yards to the Cajuns' 8-yard line in 11 plays, but on third down on the 7-yard line, Smith's pass couldn't get to Simeon.