Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 18, 2008
BOWLING GREEN, Ky. — Maybe it wasn't Rusty Smith's shoulder injury that ailed Florida Atlantic's offense the past month. Charles Pierre's turf toe may have been the real reason behind the decline.
Pierre's record-breaking night gave Florida Atlantic a 24-20 victory Saturday over Western Kentucky at L.T. Smith Stadium.
The victory was the first in six weeks for the Owls (2-5), snapping four-game losing streak.
"Just for the team's confidence, for the season's sake, everything was on the line," linebacker Frantz Joseph said. "We needed this win, bad."
Coach Howard Schnellenberger called it a "turnaround game."
"This win was better received by our football team than many other wins we've had in grander fashion," he said.
Pierre rushed for a school single-game record 192 yards, which included the longest run in school history, a 74-yard touchdown that came just one play after Western Kentucky had taken a 10-point lead late in the first half.
"If we hadn't gotten the win it would mean nothing to me," said Pierre, who also scored on an 8-yard run early in the second quarter.
Pierre looked like the player who is the school's career leading rusher for the first time since suffering a turf toe injury three games ago against Minnesota. The senior from Orlando was limited to 49 yards in the past two games, including just 8 in the Owls' 30-17 loss to Troy.
Pierre took advantage of the 11-day break between games and looked rejuvenated during practice last week. It showed on the Owls first series when he gained 33 yards on FAU's first possession and then, with 6:38 remaining in the half, he busted loose for the record breaking run.
"I put all the pain aside," he said. "I know the team really needed me and really needed this win."
Smith, who revealed last week he played the early part of the season with a dislocated left (non-throwing) shoulder, had one of his more efficient games, completing 15 of 23 passes for 174 yards and a touchdown.
More importantly, Smith did not throw and interception after tossing eight in his past three games, although he was responsible for the Owls' lone turnover, a fumble that resulted in a Western Kentucky (2-6) field goal.
"I was very good to not throw an interception tonight," Smith said. "That is something I was very happy about."
The Owls overcame sloppy play and several mistakes. The defense was shredded by Western Carolina's running game that accounted for 240 yards, the receivers had several dropped passes and both units were hurt by untimely penalties.
"This will be a win in overcoming stupidity and other game errors," Schnellenberger said.
The Hilltoppers appeared ready to retake the lead late in the third quarter but Ed Alexander intercepted Dexter Taylor's pass into double coverage in the end zone, ending Western Kentucky's drive on the 16.
The Owls took advantage by tacking on a 23-yard Warley Leroy field goal on the ensuing drive to expand their lead to 24-20.
"It was all going in slow motion," Alexander said. "I recognized the play from practice. They ran it a lot in previous games. ... Pretty much when it left his hands I knew I had to get it."
Western Kentucky, a transitional team that will become a full-fledged member of the Sun Belt Conference next season, had one more chance late in the game after the Owls committed three consecutive penalties on third down and had to punt with less than four minutes remaining.
But on fourth-and-3 from their own 35, FAU linebackers Andre Clarke and Ed Braswell stuffed quarterback David Wolke after a 1-yard gain.
The Owls then ran out the clock.
"This is a very big momentum booster for us," Smith said. "A good morale booster."