Rout keeps Owls on track for bowl; FIU falls to 0-11


MIAMI - The Shula Bowl trophy is staying at Florida Atlantic, and as a result the Owls' hopes for a conference championship and a New Orleans Bowl berth remain alive.

FAU jumped on Florida International early and often Saturday and cruised to a 55-23 win at the Orange Bowl.

It was the fifth win for FAU in the sixth Shula Bowl, as the Owls improved to 6-5 and 5-1 in the Sun Belt, while FIU (0-11, 0-6) lost for the 23rd consecutive time.

"We came out and played a great ballgame," FAU linebacker Cergile Sincere said. "We took the game from the beginning."

There appeared to be more FAU fans in the announced crowd of 6,122 than FIU fans, and they enjoyed watching the rout.

FAU now heads into a decisive game at Troy (8-3, 6-0) on Saturday, with the winner getting the bid to the Dec. 21 New Orleans Bowl.

"This win assures we will be playing in that championship game," FAU coach Howard Schnellenberger said. "This fulfills their dream."

"Big game next Saturday. We have to win. No questions about it," FAU quarterback Rusty Smith said.

"This game prepared us well for next week," Sincere said.

"Hopefully we will go there and take a victory."

FAU players had said they were not overlooking the Golden Panthers, since they knew a loss would end their hopes of going to New Orleans.

The Owls have dominated the series against FIU, which began in 2002, with their only loss coming in 2005. FAU blanked FIU 31-0 last year.

After a slow start, FAU took control in the second quarter when it scored four touchdowns and had a 35-3 lead at the half.

The Owls had drives of 71, 96, 80 and 69 yards while building the lead.

Smith passed for four scores, including a 69-yarder to Cortez Gent, and had 330 yards passing.

And Rob Housler took an end-around 68 yards for another score.

Smith now holds the season-single records for passing yards in a season with 3,061, passing Jared Allen who had 24 touchdowns and 3,003 yards in 2003.

Gent had four catches for 145 yards and two touchdowns and now has eight on the season.

The Owls had 425 yards of offense in the first half, while holding FIU to 163.

FIU starting quarterback Wayne Younger left the game in the second quarter with an injury, and that contributed to the Owls' domination. Younger, who was 5 of 10 for 73 yards before the injury, was unable to return.

In its second year as an official member of the Sun Belt, Saturday's win assures FAU of at least a second-place finish if it loses to Troy.

A win over Troy, the defending Sun Belt champions and preseason favorites to repeat, would make the Owls and Trojans co-champions, but FAU would get the bowl bid due to the head-to-head tiebreaker.

"This win gave us confidence, but not big-head confidence. We know we still have a job to get done," FAU linebacker Frantz Joseph said.