Kerrith Whyte provided the jumpstart FAU needed to prevent that from happening.
Whyte took a kickoff 100 yards to the house to put his team ahead by 11, FAU (3-3, 1-1) and the Owls showed revved their powerful engine in a 52-33 victory over Old Dominion.
“It was a great momentum shift in the game,” Whyte said of his 100-yard kick return, the longest in FAU history. “The guys in front of me did an excellent job blocking and opening a lane for me.”
Once on the sideline he received an unusual congratulations from quarterback Chris Robison.
“I was like Bro, thank you, I didn’t even want to go out on the field,” Robison joked.
Rather than let its opponent back in the game, like the Owls did multiple times this season, FAU showed it can keep its foot on the gas pedal and pull away for a victory.
FAU scored three fourth-quarter touchdowns, two of which came in the final 7 minutes.
“We definitely stayed aggressive because I think it was like six minutes left and we could have easily just handed the ball off trying to run the clock down,” tight end Harrison Bryant said. “Coach Kiffin, like he always says, he puts the trust in us to make plays. So we go out we’re throwing the ball, we drive down the field, score a big touchdown. We put our defense in a good position.”
Safety Jalen Young, who was FAU’s leading tackler with 10 stops, credited his team’s late-game aggressiveness to staying focused and calm through adverse on-field situations.
“In certain situations you just have to man up and do what you got to do,” he said.
The Owls’ resiliency was especially put to the test defensively, as they lost two starters to disqualifications. Linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair was ejected after being called for targeting in the second quarter on a would-be sack, and nickel corner Herb Miller was tossed for his involvement in a fight following an Old Dominion extra point.
Miller’s absence was a little harder to swallow for Kiffin, as he found the fighting and lack of discipline from his team “very frustrating.”
Whyte’s big return was only one of several big plays from the junior running back. He amassed 186 all-purpose yards and two rushing touchdowns on the night, truly making an running, catching and returning.
His partner in the backfield had himself a night as well.
Devin Singletary powered past Old Dominion defenders and the record books tonight in a 168-yard, two-touchdown performance. He passed Tim Tebow and Marshall Faulk in career rushing touchdowns (57) in his team’s victory.
“That’s definitely a great accomplishment,” Singeltary said of his improved position on the all-time touchdown list. “That’s some great company to be with.”
In his second TD run of the night a 44-yarder, Singletary passed Alfred Morris to become the Owls’ career leader in rushing yards.
FAU’s cornerbacks had an imposing matchup in Old Dominion’s Jonathan Duhart and Travis Fulgham – both six-foot-three. Shelton Lewis stepped up to the challenge.
He contributed a season-high eight tackles, including a fourth-down stop on Old Dominion’s bruising running back Jeremy Cox in the first half. With eight minutes remaining he put a dagger in Old Dominion’s comeback efforts, picking off a pass which led to a 31-yard Whyte score on the ensuing drive.
Bryant proved productive from the opening whistle, hauling in a 44-yard catch-and-run on the Owls’ first play from scrimmage along with scoring the game’s first touchdown on that drive. He finished with six catches, 133 yards, and two touchdowns in the FAU win.
Bryant has been an effective blocker this entire season, but he showed tonight that he is as reliable a pass catcher as they come.
“When my number’s called, I’m just trying to do whatever I can to make a play,” Bryant said.
The victory is first for FAU in Conference USA play this season and their 10th consecutive win at home. The Owls now head into a bye week, before traveling to Marshall on Oct. 20.