It’s difficult to cherish even positive memories from tough rivalry losses.
“If anything I thought about more so the plays I didn’t make or the plays that I probably could have made that I wasn’t quite there in the right spot or whatever to change the outcome,” Al-Shaair said.
With FAU leading FIU 17-14 last season, Al-Shaair stepped in front of FIU quarterback Alex McGough’s pass across the middle on the second play of the second half, snatching it out of the air and returning it 30 yards for a score.
FAU appeared to be on its way to its second-consecutive Shula Bowl victory.
Only it wasn’t. FIU rallied, and the Owls didn’t score in the fourth quarter of a 33-31 loss.
Safety Jalen Young holds much better memories from his 58-yard pick-six that sealed the Owls’ 31-17 victory two years ago.
“That was a real nice moment,” Young said. “It popped into my head a little bit [this week]. I always got that chip on my shoulder when it comes to FIU.”
And when it comes to the most important Shula Bowl game in history.
For the first time Saturday’s match-up holds Conference USA title implications. Should FAU win, the Owls will make their first appearance in the C-USA championship game, hosting the Dec. 2 showdown. If FIU wins, the Panthers keep hope alive. They would still have to win the following weekend against Western Kentucky and hope FAU loses to bottom-dwelling Charlotte, but that’s more of a chance than could have been expected at season’s start.
“We’re fighting for a lot right now,” FAU running back Devin Singletary said. “It’s something special. You’ve got to lay it on the line. That’s just how we think – by any means necessary. That’s how we’ve been all season.”
The winner also takes possession of the Shula Bowl trophy. How long they’ll keep it intact is anyone’s guess. The over/under is only a few seconds.
Presented to the winner of each game, one side of the tall, wooden trophy features a plastic FAU helmet. The other, an FIU helmet.
Following FIU’s victory last season, the Panthers ripped the FAU helmet off and tossed it like a Frisbee around FIU’s football stadium (See video below).
“It’s got to tick you off, kind of,” Al-Shaair said. “I hope that motivates the guys even more – go out there play like how we always play. Play angry. Play physical and go out there and fly around.”
To be fair, the FIU helmet became, shall we say, dislodged after FAU’s 2015 victory, with then-defensive tackle Shalom Ogbonda carrying it around Howard Schnellenberger Field.
Al-Shaair is one of the few FAU players willing to talk with any specificity about last year’s trophy degradation.
“Bringing up some memories,” Young said, shaking his head from side to side when the topic broached. “It’s going to be a good game. It’s going to be a real good game.”
The memories that most concern senior running back Buddy Howell are the ones that last forever
A graduate of Coral Games High School a few miles south of Miami, Howell started last season’s game strong, blasting through the middle of FIU’s defense for a 68-yard TD run in the game’s opening minute en route to a 101-yard game. However, his second-half fumble on the FAU’s first possession following Al-Shaair’s interception swung momentum back onto FIU’s side.
FAU owns a 10-5 advantage heading into Saturday’s Shula showdown 7 p.m. kickoff, but Howell isn’t concerned with series history. He’s looking toward the future – Saturday and beyond.
“Lifetime talks, having lifetime bragging rights, that’s all it’s about,” Howell said. “Once I leave here, I’m not going to get another shot. And most of (FIU’s players) are from Miami. Most of them I’m probably going to come into contact just being around that area. Gotta end with a bang. Gotta have bragging rights at the end of the day.”