December 21, 2007

One bowl, one victory for FAU

NEW ORLEANS - Howard Schnellenberger's goal of bringing Florida Atlantic to national prominence is complete. Now it's time to set a new goal for his still very young football program.

No one could have imagined the heights Schnellenberger has reached in the eight years of FAU's football existence. The Owls (8-5) just moved up from the Football Championship Subdivision to the Football Bowl Subdivision in 2005, and now they can call themselves bowl game champions after they defeated Memphis (7-6) in the New Orleans Bowl, 44-27.

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Owls putting game out of reach

NEW ORLEANS - It looked like FAU would have to be conservative considering its latest drive began at its own 4-yard line.

Instead, the Owls were very aggresive, driving the length of the field in 11 plays to push their lead over Memphis to 44-27, with 9:12 left in the game.

FAU's touchdown helped set a New Orleans bowl record for combined points. The previous record was 65. That record was set in the inaugural New Orleans Bowl in 2001.

A few Memphis fans have begun to make their way to the exits. Tonight's announced attendance was 25,146, which appeared to be split pretty evenly between Memphis and FAU supporters.

Smith makes big mistake

NEW ORLEANS - Rusty Smith had an almost perfect night until about five minutes ago.

Smith threw an interception in Memphis territory, and LeRico Mathis returned the pick 34 yards to the Tigers' 42-yard line. That's where Memphis will have the ball to begin the fourth quarter. FAU leads the Tigers, 37-27.

Another Tiger injured

NEW ORLEANS - Memphis QB Martin Hankins went down with some sort of leg injury after he was brought down following an incomplete pass.

Hankins limped off the field with the assistance of two trainers but began to place more weight on the leg once he hit the sidelines.

He left the game with 280 passing yards and three touchdowns. Junior Will Hudgens replaced Hankins.

Hankins joins backup running back T.J. Pitts as Memphis players who have been injured tonight.

Florida Atlantic still holds a 37-27 advantage with less than a minute remaining in the third quarter.

Special teams with special play

NEW ORLEANS - Florida Atlantic's Wilfred Rivera just made one of the biggest plays of the game. And, surprisingly, the play had nothing to do with offense.

Rivera blocked a Memphis punt and gave his team the ball on the Tigers' 19-yard line. Two plays later, Rusty Smith threw his fifth touchdown pass of the game and put FAU up, 37-27, with 1:39 left in the third quarter.

Smith's five touchdown passes are a New Orleans Bowl record.

Closing the gap

NEW ORLEANS - On the three occasions Memphis made it to the redzone in the first half the Tigers were fairly successful, scoring at least a touchdown or field goal each time.

They made a redzone trip on their first possession of the second half, and the results were much of the same. Memphis opened the half by driving 69 yards on 14 plays to decrease Florida Atlantic's lead to 30-27.

Memphis' scoring drive lasted 5:30. The two teams have combined for 600 yards of total offense, and the two starting quarterbacks have combined for seven touchdown passes.

Memphis in good position going into half

NEW ORLEANS - With one drive, Memphis just went from being a possession away from a blowout to a possession away from being part of the most contested New Orleans Bowl in years.

The past four New Orleans bowls have all been decided by more than 10 points.

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Rusty? Not at all

NEW ORLEANS - Florida Atlantic's Rusty Smith just broke the 200-yard plateau with his fourth touchdown pass of the night.

Smith is 15-of-20 for 204 yards in the first half. The Owls were hampered by two false start penalties that backed up the extra point attempt 10 yards. FAU kicker Warley Leroy missed the attempt, but the Owls still have the advantage over Memphis, 30-13.

Tigers trying to chip away

NEW ORLEANS - Memphis' latest drive took 4:30 off the clock. Unfortunately, the Tigers were only able to put three points on the board and cut Florida Atlantic's lead to 24-13.

The Tigers drove 68 yards on 11 plays but couldn't find the endzone. Memphis quarterback Martin Hankins has thrown for 169 yards and a touchdown in the first half.

Owls up by two touchdowns

NEW ORLEANS - Florida Atlantic's Chris Bonner just caught a 16-yard touchdown pass to increase the Owls' lead to 24-10.

Bonner's catch capped a 59-yard drive that lasted four plays and took 1:47 off the clock.

FAU's Rusty Smith is having an MVP-caliber game. With 10:25 left in the first half, Smith is 11-of-15 through the air with 141 yards and three scores.

Tigers' receiver injured ... Memphis scores

NEW ORLEANS - Memphis wide receiver Maurice Jones went down with an injury after picking up five yards on a reception.

Jones was carried off the field on strectcher but was moving both his arms and head while being taken away.

After Jones went to the locker room, the Tigers failed on a third-down conversion and were forced into a 38-yard field goal.

FAU now leads Memphis, 17-10.

Tigers, Owls very disciplined to start

NEW ORLEANS - Early on, tonight's game between Florida Atlantic and Memphis has been as disciplined as it can be.

The second quarter has just begun, and neither team has committed a penalty.

Both FAU's Rusty Smith and Memphis' Martin Hankins have thrown 13 passes. Hankins has completed eight, while Smith has connected on nine.

Memphis is deep in FAU territory, looking to cut into the Owls' 17-7 lead.

Owls make up for last possession

NEW ORLEANS - It seems like Florida Atlantic was extremely disappointed in only scoring three points on its last possession.

The Owls were so distraught that they made up for it quickly, using only four plays to drive 74 yards and take a 17-7 lead over Memphis.

Florida Atlantic forced Memphis to punt on its last posession. That punt was the first by either team so far tonight.

Finally, a little defense

NEW ORLEANS - Finally, a team played some defense here.

Florida Atlantic just went up 10-7, but the Memphis defense stopped the Owls from putting up six in the endzone.

The Owls returned the Tigers' kickoff 63 yards but only mustered 23 yards on six plays and had to settle for a 22-yard field goal.

There are 7:23 left in the first quarter.

Tigers tie it up

NEW ORLEANS - The offensive explosion is on in the Big Easy.

Memphis responded to Florida Atlantic's opening drive touchdown, going 67 yards on seven plays to tied the score at 7.

Memphis quarterback Martin Hankins did Florida Atlantic's Rusty Smith one better, completing all five of his pass attempts on the drive. Smith completed all four of his attempts on the Owls' scoring drive.

Owls waste little time

NEW ORLEANS - Florida Atlantic showed on the opening drive why its offense averaged more than 30 points per game and was ranked No. 2 in the Sun Belt Conference this season.

Assisted by a good kickoff return, the Owls drove 52 yards to jump ahead of Memphis, 7-0. Rusty Smith completed all four of his pass attempts on the drive, including a 4-yard pass to Charles Pierre for the touchdown.

Smith's touchdown pass gives him 28 on the season.

Fans beginning to get excited

NEW ORLEANS - It took a little while, but fans in the Louisiana Superdome are finally starting to get pumped up about the upcoming game between Florida Atlantic and Memphis.

Not even the lower level of the Superdome is filled, and only a few fans are scattered throughout the building's top two sections. But the atmosphere should have no effect for the two small schools looking for a big win.

Memphis just won the coin toss and deferred to the second half. Florida Atlantic will receive the opening kickoff.

Tigers, Owls set for Big Easy showdown

NEW ORLEANS - Florida Atlantic coach Howard Schnellenberger is no stranger to the postseason.

He's coached four bowl games in his career, and his teams are undefeated in those contests.

But those victories, which include an Orange Bowl win with Miami in January 1984 and a Fiesta Bowl triumph with Louisville in 1991, may be overshadowed by what Schnellenberger and his team have the chance to accomplish tonight when they face Memphis in the New Orleans Bowl.

Continue reading "Tigers, Owls set for Big Easy showdown" »

 

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