FAU defensive back Keith Reaser, left, celebrates with defensive end Martin Wright after Reaser's fourth-quarter touchdown during the Owls' 37-28 victory vs. Western Kentucky on Saturday. (Photo Courtesy of Josh Fryd)
CAN YOU TOP THAT?
FAU survives wild fourth quarter for a 37-28 victory over Western Kentucky on Saturday to snap a 15-game road losing streak.
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All season long Florida Atlantic coach Carl Pelini has been saying his Owls need to learn how to close out a game.
For the second time in three weeks FAU showed it has the skill to pass that final exam – though at times the Owls' 37-28 victory over Western Kentucky on Saturday in Bowling Green, Ky. conjured memories of early season disasters.
Leading 31-21 and controlling the ball with two minutes to go in the ballgame, FAU running back Jonathan Wallace's fumble became a Quanterus Smith 75-yard touchdown return that cut the Owls' lead to a field goal.
Moments later Western Kentucky recovered an onside kick, only to have the play overturned by a Hilltoppers offside penalty. Christian Milstead snared the Hilltoppers' second on-side kick attempt, but even that didn't ensure an FAU victory.
The Owls couldn't quite run out the clock, punting the ball back to WKU with 16 seconds remaining.
FAU cornerback Keith Reaser finally sealed the deal for FAU by stealing the pitch on WKU's desperation hook-and-lateral attempt and returning it for a touchdown.
“It was the first road win against a very quality opponent," Pelini said. "I can’t express how big this is for our confidence. I told them going into the last three weeks, ‘You have three Sun Belt opponents. We can play with anyone in the Sun Belt. Let’s go prove it. Let’s go bring all three games down to the fourth quarter and see what happens.’ That’s what we did today.”
The clencher was the second big play by Reaser, whose third-quarter interception set up the touchdown that gave the Owls a lead they would not relinquish.
Following Reaser's interception, Graham Wilbert found Daniel McKinney racing across the middle of the field. McKinney handled the final 10 yards of the 20-yard reception on his own, giving the Owls their first lead of the game, 21-14. It was the second touchdown hook-up between Wilbert and McKinney on the afternoon.
Wilbert completed 23 of his 36 pass attempts for 257 yards and those two scores. He also tied the game at 7 early in the second quarter with a 1-yard plunge that was set up by Travis Jones' 48-yard punt return. The burst was the longest punt return of Jones' career and the third longest in program history.
The game was tied at 14 going into halftime after Wilbert led the Owls on a 13-play, 84-yard drive in the closing minutes of the half. After having one TD pass wiped away by an offensive pass interference penalty, Wilbert responded by eluding the WKU pass rush and tossing a six-yard touchdown pass to McKinney with 14 seconds remaining in the half.
FAU led 24-14 after Mitch Anderson's 47-yard field goal in the opening minute of the fourth quarter. That's when WKU's sluggish offense came to life. A little more than a minute later the Hilltoppers were in the end zone courtesy of Kawaun Jakes' 24-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Andrews.
WKU had a shot to tie the game midway through the fourth quarter, but Garrett Schwettman's field goal attempt sailed wide right. That miss proved critical in the final minutes of play.
Damian Fortner's 4-yard run with 3:09 remaining in the game pushed the Owls' lead back to 10 points and seemed to seal the victory. A minute later Wallace's fumble let WKU back into the game.
GameBrowser: FAU 37, Western Kentucky 28
Garrett Schwettman's missed 32-yard field goal would have tied the game midway through the fourth quarter. Instead, FAU took possession and marched 80 yards for a score, taking 4:50 off the clock.
- Graham Wilbert continues to be surprisingly elusive in the pocket. He's difficult to bring down and can buy himself some extra time – like he did on the second quarter TD pass to McKinney.
- The Owls' punt return team finally showed some life as evidenced by Travis Jones' 48-yard return.
- FAU coach Carl Pelini wants his players to learn how to win, but it seems as though his coaches may need to hit the books, too. FAU was still in the shotgun while trying to run out the clock and one snap was dangerously high. Wonder whether FAU will practice taking snaps under center this week?
- The victory snapped FAU's 15-game road losing streak. Their last road victory came at WKU in 2010.
11 – Penalties totaling 100 yards committed by FAU.
16 – Rushing yards in the first half for FAU on 16 carries. The Owls finished with 98 yards on the ground.
48 – Yard punt return by Travis Jones, tying Tavious Polo for the longest in FAU's FBS history. It's the third longest overall for FAU. Brittney Tellis returned a punt 75 yards against Albany in 2001.
88 – Rushing yards for Antonio Andrews, halting a string of seven consecutive 100 yard games for the WKU running back.
191 – Passes by Graham Wilbert without an interception. His last pick came against Georgia in the Owls' third game of the season.
With its road schedule complete, FAU returns home for a Friday night Shula Bowl. The Owls host Florida International in what will likely be the final meeting of the two rivals for the next few years.