Florida Atlantic’s quest for bowl eligibility will come down to the final week of the season.
Chris Robison’s attempt to lead the Owls to a late-game comeback in his home state ended prematurely when Khairi Muhammad batted a pass intended for Jovon Durante into the air, then intercepted it with less than 2 minutes remaining, ensuring a 41-38 North Texas victory.
“On offense, we’ve got to go down and score,” FAU coach Lane Kiffin told ESPN West Palm’s postgame show.
With the victory North Texas exacted a modicum of revenge for the two losses FAU handed it last year by a combined score of 110-48. The second loss came in the Conference USA championship game.
The loss dropped FAU to 5-6 on the season. The Owls will have to defeat Charlotte in the regular-season finale on Nov. 24 to be eligible for a bowl bid.
“It means a lot,” Kiffin said. “To go to back-to-back bowls after not going to one for nine years would be a really big deal.”
Robison nearly pulled off the comeback. After DeAndre Torrey’s 92-yard touchdown run with 4:06 remaining appeared to give North Texas an insurmountable 10-point lead, Robison led the Owls to a touchdown only 28 seconds later, cutting the North Texas lead to 41-38 with a 55-yard touchdown pass to Jovon Durante.
“That was big to respond like that,” running back Devin Singletary said. “We needed that.”
FAU’s defense forced a punt on the ensuing North Texas possession, getting Robison and the Owls the ball back with 2:30 remaining, but FAU couldn’t pick up a first down on its final drive.
“So many opportunities to win the game,” Kiffin said. “Really disappointing.”
Robsion went pass-for-pass with North Texas QB Mason Fine, statistically one of the best passers in the nation. Fine threw for 295 yards, one more than Robison. Both quarterbacks threw two touchdown passes and two interceptions.
FAU temporarily knocked Fine out of the game when Jalen Young and Rashad Smith met at the quarterback to deliver a vicious hit. Having Fine on the sideline didn’t benefit FAU.
Officials mysteriously flagged Young for roughing the passer on the play, moving the ball inside FAU 10. Fine’s replacement, Quinn Shanbour, rushed for a 5-yard touchdown that gave North Texas a 27-24 lead. The Mean Green would never trail again.
The following North Texas possession ended in similar fashion. Shanbour’s 18-yard touchdown run extended Mean Green lead to 10. Shanbour only threw for eight yards in his brief appearance, but his four carries resulted in 34 yards and two scores.
During the early minutes of the night North Texas appeared primed to blow out the Owls.
North Texas raced to a 17-0 first quarter lead, scoring on the initial three times it had the ball while holding FAU off the board the Owls’ first three possessions.
FAU coach Lane Kiffin announced earlier in the week his intention to play both Chris Robsion and De’Andre Johnson at quarterback, but in a spot where Johnson had entered in previous games Kiffin elected to stick with Robison for at least one more drive.
The redshirt freshman and Texas native responded. Facing a fourth-and-two near midfield, Robison found tight end Harrison Bryant, who lined up at the H-back spot a yard behind the edge of the offensive line, streaking uncovered down the middle of the field. Robison’s pass hit Bryant in stride for a 56-yard TD – the longest passing play of the year for FAU.
FAU sandwiched two more scores around an interception of Fine by Rashad Smith.
Devin Sinlgetary’s 1-yard TD run moved him into sole possession of sixth place on the NCAA career rushing touchdown list with 65. Kerrith Whyte’s 29-yard scamper gave the Owls 14 points in the span of only 13 seconds and sent the Owls into halftime with a 21-20 lead.