After his team was down 11 early, Charlotte kicker Jonathan Cruz drilled a 56-yard field goal with under 30 seconds remaining to give the 49ers a late lead and the eventual 27-24 comeback win.
An Owls (5-7, 3-5 Conference USA) win would have made them bowl eligible for back-to-back seasons, something FAU hasn’t accomplished since 2007-08 under then-coach Howard Schnellenberger.
After jumping out to a 21-10 lead in the first half, the Owls offense fell flat to start the second half. FAU managed only 56 scoreless yards in the third quarter, letting Charlotte (5-7, 4-4 C-USA) climb back into the game to take a three-point lead with 14:21 remaining in the fourth.
Coach Lane Kiffin turned to quarterback De’Andre Johnson in an attempt to right the ship. It didn’t help much.
The redshirt junior completed 3-of-6 passes for 32 yards passing and adding 72 rushing yards on nine carries. He led the Owls on a field-goal drive that tied the game at 24 with 3:12 remaining.
But Cruz’s 56-yarder on the following drive left Johnson and the Owls only 25 seconds answer. He got the ball to Willie Wright at midfield, but the receiver fumbled while trying to pitch the ball back to Jovon Durante.
The mishandling of the football ended the game and the season for FAU.
Before exiting for Johnson, quarterback Chris Robison went 13-22 passing for 273 yards and two touchdowns. He added a rushing touchdown on a read-option play in the second quarter.
Charlottte gashed FAU on the ground, giving up 289 rushing yards – with quarterback Hasaan Klugh and running back Benny LeMay combining for 281 yards and two touchdowns.
FAU running back Kerrith Whyte had a strong game in the loss, picking up 117 all-purpose yards and a touchdown on the night. He scored a 75-yard touchdown on a short pitch from Robison on the very first play from scrimmage.
The Owls couldn’t sustain the early momentum.
FAU got a big performance from not one but two of its tight ends. Harrison Bryant and John Raine combined for 130 yards on seven catches, the latter hitting paydirt on a 23-yard score in the second quarter.
Raine’s touchdown was the first of his career.
That wasn’t the only first of the night, however. Defensive back Korel Smith jumped a second-quarter pass to nab his first-career interception.
While he made a 33-yard field goal attempt in the fourth to tie the game at 24, kicker Rivas missed on a 28-yarder earlier in the game. Those points would have sent the game to overtime if accounted for.