FAU receiver William Dukes hauls in a 32-yard pass from Graham Wilbert in the third quarter of the Owls' 20-14 loss to North Texas on Saturday. (Photo Courtesy of Ralph Notaro/ Owl Pix)
Green with envy
Florida Atlantic is still searching for its first Sun Belt Conference victory after the Owls' comeback falls short vs. North Texas in a 20-14 loss to the Mean Green.
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BOCA RATON – Even when trailing by two touchdowns late in the third quarter, Florida Atlantic players still expected to defeat Sun Belt opponent North Texas on Saturday at FAU Stadium.
Instead FAU's comeback attempt sputtered, resulting in a devastating 20-14 loss to the Mean Green that left the coaches and players shaking their heads.
“It’s the same old thing. We don’t know how to win,” said Owls coach Carl Pelini. “We haven’t learned how to win as a football team, as a football program. When the game was on the line we couldn’t get over the hump.”
The Owls (1-4, 0-2 Sun Belt) were shut-out for the first 44 minutes of the game as the offense struggled to get in sync.
FAU looked destined to score a touchdown on its first offensive series, but an interception in the end zone by North Texas safety Marcus Trice of a pass thrown by quarterback Graham Wilbert halted the unit’s momentum. On the Owls’ second possession Wilbert tossed another interception on a tipped pass. Late in the second quarter, Wilbert fumbled inside the Mean Green 20-yard line after he was sacked.
Wilbert pinned the blame for the offense’s early struggles on himself.
“Pretty much it’s all on me,” said Wilbert, who completed 21-of-34 passes for 142 yards. “Two red zone turnovers—that kills you. Same thing against Wagner, and we can’t get away with that against a team like North Texas. We’ve just got to cut down on turnovers.”
Trailing 17-0 in the final minutes of the third quarter, the Owls put together a nine-play, 73-yard drive that was capped by an 11-yard touchdown run by running back Damian Fortner.
“We all have got to come in, we’ve got to settle down, we’ve got to focus on what we have to do, our fundamental techniques and just go out and execute,” said Fortner, who rushed for 63 yards on 17 carries. “That’s what we were lacking in the beginning of the game.”
On the following drive, cornerback Keith Reaser came up with an interception to set up an 11-yard touchdown run by Wilbert to bring FAU to within a field goal.
“Honestly at no point in the game did we really believe we were going to lose,” Reaser said. “At that moment everybody was high, everybody was up-and-going. It really seemed like the momentum had changed sides.”
The Mean Green's next series was perhaps as devastating to the team as the final offensive series proved to be. The 16-play drive that ate up 7:18 of clock consisted of two costly penalties, three field goal attempts and ended in a 28-yard field goal for North Texas (2-3, 1-1 Sun Belt). The Owls went three-and-out on the following possession, punting from their 32 with just over five minutes remaining,
Still the Owls had one last chance to win the game with 3:33 left, but gained just four yards in four quick downs in 47 seconds was all they had to show for it.
“We just didn’t execute everything we needed to,” Wilbert said. “We shot ourselves in the foot. I don’t think it was anything North Texas did. They didn’t confuse us. There was nothing like that. It was just us not getting the job done.”
GameBrowser: North Texas 20, FAU 14
North Texas’ final scoring drive proved just as costly to FAU as its final offensive drive. The Owls defense forced UNT’s Zach Olen to kick a 36-yard field goal and keep it a one-possession game, but a costly personal foul penalty for juming on a teammates' back on FAU gave the Mean Green a fresh set of downs. The Owls defense came up with another stop to force yet another field goal attempt from 39 yards out, which was good. But FAU was called for roughing the kicker which gave UNT another crack at extending its lead to two possessions. The defense came up with another stellar stop and Olen connected for the third time—this time from 28 yards, his shortest attempt—to give the Mean Green a 20-14 lead. While the two special teams penalties on the Owls only resulted in a field goal, they did prove costly to FAU, as it ate up about four minutes from the clock.
- FAU’s offense got off to another slow start turning the ball over three times in the first half, including twice in the red zone.
- The two back-to-back touchdowns by the Owls in the end of the third and beginning of the fourth quarters seemed like it would provide a momentum boost for the squad, but the team couldn’t finish with a chance to win the game on its final drive.
- The Owls have lost 12 straight games against Sun Belt Conference opponents, dating back to November 13, 2010, when FAU defeated Louisiana-Lafayette 24-23.
3 – FAU turnovers in the first half, including two in the red zone.
5 – Sacks on quarterback Graham Wilbert.
56 – Net rushing yards by North Texas.