Owls prevail in the long run

Pierre's 73-yard dash puts up crucial points in offense-happy duel

FORT LAUDERDALE - Florida Atlantic had to punt just once Saturday against Alabama-Birmingham, with the Owls scoring touchdowns on seven of their nine possessions.

But they still needed a team-record 73-yard touchdown run by Charles Pierre with 40 seconds left to seal a 49-34 victory over the Blazers at Lockhart Stadium.

"That was certainly an inspirational run and one that will live in my memory for a long time because at that juncture I said, 'Hallelujah, we won the game,'" FAU coach Howard Schnellenberger said.

For the second straight week, FAU's defense had trouble stopping its opponent, putting pressure on the offense to score enough to win. That proved too tough last week against Texas, but against UAB, which came to Lockhart as two-touchdown underdogs, the Owls' offense was able to meet the challenge.

"The offense was very successful today. We pulled out a close one," said FAU quarterback Rusty Smith, who passed for 325 yards, completing 21 of 34 with three touchdowns.

Smith's main target was wide receiver Cortez Gent, who had eight catches for 146 yards and a touchdown.

But Gent's most memorable play came on the opening drive, when he took a handoff on an end-around, then stopped and threw a perfect pass for Chris Bonner in the corner of the end zone for a 33-yard score that gave FAU a lead it would never relinquish.

"I knew it was a touchdown right at the beginning of the play when I saw the defense bite. I was just hoping it would come down inbounds," Bonner said.

Gent said, "I would rather not win a shootout, but our job is to score every time we have the ball."

FAU's defense then had a rare stop on UAB's first possession of the game, and FAU scored again to take a 14-0 lead. After that the teams traded scores, with the Blazers cutting the lead to 42-34 with 7:43 left in the game.

Knowing they needed to keep pace, the Blazers used a fake punt to keep one drive alive, and converted on three of five fourth-down conversions as they refused to let the game get out of reach.

UAB was driving for the tying score when FAU's defense finally stopped it at the Owls' 27, when a fourth-down pass fell incomplete with less than a minute left.

On the next play Pierre headed into the line, broke a couple of tackles, bounced outside, then outran the defenders to put away the game.

It was FAU's longest run from scrimmage, and helped Pierre to a career-high 138 yards rushing.

"If we have to score 49 points a game, I think we have the manpower to do it," Smith said.

While the offense has found its rhythm, FAU defensive players were left shaking their heads.

"There are still a lot of young guys, especially in the secondary. Everyone has to have a sense of urgency to get up," said linebacker Frantz Joseph.

"We have some work to do," said defensive coordinator Kirk Hoza.

146

The number of yards FAU wide receiver Cortez Gent racked up in the Owls' victory over UAB on Saturday. Gent also threw for one touchdown on an end-around on the opening drive of the game.