FAU beats La.-Monroe on late drive

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Saturday, October 25, 2008

MONROE, La. In the end, all the penalties, turnovers, dropped passes and poor decisions didn't matter.

What did was Rusty Smith's ability to turn back the clock to 2007 and complete a magical drive that allowed Florida Atlantic to pull out an improbable 29-28 victory over Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday night.

Smith capped a 72-yard drive with a 22-yard touchdown pass to Cortez Gent with 20 second remaining.

The touchdown allowed FAU to overcome a lackluster start that at one point forced coach Howard Schnellenberger to call a time out to summons his defense and give them a stern talking to on the sidelines.

"We had to look so bad and so inept for so long to get the full value of the heroics that happened in the last part of the game," Schnellenberger said.

"It was ... an example of not playing consistent, not playing smart enough and to dig a deep hole that for all practical purposes was impossible to crawl out of, but they did and this will go down in the history books of the Florida Atlantic program as one of the real highlights."

The Owls (3-5, 1-2 Sun Belt) keep their feint hopes alive in the conference race and for a bowl berth. The victory is their second in a row after losing four straight.

"We needed that to keep this momentum going," Gent said.

Smith completed all but one of his eight passes in the final drive. Gent caught the ball as two ULM defenders crossed in front of him.

"With all the bad stuff that has happened to us, I figured why not something good," Gent said.

The play called in the huddle was a corner route but Gent read the coverage and decided to run a post.

Smith was on the same page.

"Me and him have been here working together (for a long time)," Smith said. "As soon as I saw him look, I knew he was going to break inside."

Smith finished 28-of-39 for 267 yards and two touchdowns. He also tossed his 10th and 11th interceptions of the season. The Owls totaled 418 yards of offense.

ULM kicker Radi Jabour missed a 54-yard field attempt with 1:40 to play, giving the Owls a chance to pull out a victory that at one time appeared improbable.

FAU fell behind 21-0 in the first 19 minutes but took the momentum into halftime by scoring two touchdowns in the final 2:43 of the half.

Warley Leroy then connected on field goals from 37 and 36 yards to cut the ULM lead to 21-20 entering the fourth quarter.

But another crucial mistake, a personal foul by Daniel Joseph for a horse-collar tackle, helped the Warhawks take a 28-20 lead. The Owls finished with 10 penalties for 136 yards, the second-most yards in school history and 4 yards shy of the record.

Warley Leroy's third field goal of the game made the score 28-23 and the Owls defense returned the ball to Smith, setting up his heroics.

"I would not want anyone back there during a two-minute drill other than him," center Nick Paris said.

The Warhawks (2-6, 1-3) dubbed Saturday the "Halloween Spectacular," and handed out hundreds of Howard Schnellenberger masks.

But the scariest part of the night was the way the Owls played the first quarter and a half when the 9,922 at Malone Stadium had to feel good that the home team would win for the first time in five games during this series.

By the end of the first quarter, the Owls had committed four 15-yard penalties (one was declined), a wide-open Gent dropped a pass that would have been a 68-yard touchdown, Jeff Blanchard fumbled a kickoff return that led ULM's second touchdown and Smith threw his first interception of the game, which surpasses his total of nine from last season.