Owls' late rally keeps Sun Belt title hopes alive


Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Sunday, October 21, 2007

LAFAYETTE, LA. When Louisiana-Lafayette scored a late touchdown to go ahead by seven with less than a minute to go, Florida Atlantic's shot of winning a Sun Belt Championship appeared all but over.

It didn't take long for the Owls to resurrect their title chase after they executed a touchdown drive to tie the game with 7 seconds remaining and then took control in overtime to pull out a 39-32 victory in front of 12,290 at Cajun Field.


"This game had more emotion in it than any game I've been involved in a long, long time," FAU coach Howard Schnellenberger said. "Thank goodness we caught some fire there at the end."

With the game tied at 25 and 2:14 remaining, FAU was forced to punt from its 31-yard line.

However, punter Keegan Peterson, who earlier had been benched in favor of true freshman Mickey Groody, fumbled the snap and the Ragin' Cajuns took over at the FAU 35.

On the third play of the drive, Louisiana-Lafayette quarterback Michael Desormeaux broke free for a 32-yard touchdown run to put the Ragin' Cajuns up 32-25.

"It would have cut the heart out of lesser team, and it bruised ours," Schnellenberger said of ULL's late score. "But it was still functional."

After the play, FAU knew it needed to regroup.

"When they scored that last touchdown, I'm pretty sure everybody in the stadium thought the game was over," FAU linebacker Frantz Joseph said. "Our season could have been over, but we knew we still had a chance to win the championship."

With two timeouts, the Owls calmly marched 64 yards in five plays and pulled to within 32-31 when quarterback Rusty Smith found wide receiver Cortez Gent in the middle of the end zone.

FAU (4-3, 3-0 Sun Belt) briefly appeared to consider going for a two-point conversion and the victory right there.

But after a timeout, Schnellenberger decided to kick the extra point to send the game into overtime.

"I know a bad deal when I see it," Schnellenberger said.

It turned out to be the right call, because FAU took the momentum into the extra period.

The Ragin' Cajuns won the toss and FAU scored a touchdown in four plays, the last 10 yards on the ground, including a 1-yard scoring run by running back Charles Pierre. The junior finished with 93 yards rushing on 16 carries.

"We certainly had the mojo at that time," Schnellenberger said.

Louisiana-Lafayette (1-7, 1-3) made a first down in overtime, driving to the FAU 3-yard line, but Desormeaux was sacked for a 1-yard loss by junior defensive tackle Jervonte Jackson on third down, then a motion penalty moved the Ragin' Cajuns back to the 9-yard line.

On fourth down, Desormeaux heaved a pass to the end zone that was too high for receiver Derrick Smith.

FAU players briefly stormed the field in celebration before realizing there was a flag on the play, but once the officials signaled the penalty was on ULL, the celebration was on for good.

"I think we played a good football team and they fought their hearts out," Louisiana-Lafayette coach Rickey Bustle said.

The Owls led 10-9 at halftime, and took a 17-9 lead when receiver Chris Bonner scored his first career touchdown. Bonner broke through the secondary and got into the end zone, where Smith found him all alone for a 30-yard touchdown pass.

Trying to extend the lead late in the third quarter, the Ragin' Cajuns blocked a 49-yard field-goal attempt by Warley Leroy, and Louisiana-Lafayette cornerback Jarrett Jones picked the ball up and ran it in for a touchdown as the Ragin' Cajuns took a 18-17 lead after a two-point conversion failed.