FAU Rolls Past Memphis 44-27 In New Orleans Bowl
Saturday, December 22nd 2007, 2:20 pm
By: News On 6
NEW ORLEANS (AP) Howard Schnellenberger's reaction to having a bucket of icy sports drink dumped on him showed precisely why Florida Atlantic chose him to build their fledgling football program.
The 73-year-old coach didn't flinch. He'd been there before. Now so has the team he started from scratch.
Rusty Smith threw for 336 yards and a New Orleans Bowl record five touchdowns to lead Florida Atlantic to a 44-27 victory over Memphis on Friday night.
``Obviously, we're really proud,'' Schnellenberger said. ``We have a strong squad. I think we can compete with America.''
It was the first bowl game for FAU, which has had a football team for only seven seasons at its Boca Raton, Fla., campus and didn't join the NCAA's Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division I-A) until 2005.
The victory was especially sweet for Owls players who had gotten all too used to the comedic refrain, ``F-A-who?'' when they would visit opponents whose teams had far more tradition.
``People are now going to recognize and know who we are,'' said DiIvory Edgecomb, who scored two touchdowns and set up two other scores with kickoff returns of 42 and 62 yards.
The game also marked another meaningful step for the young Sun Belt Conference. The league champion has now won three of seven New Orleans Bowls, including the past two by convincing margins, with Troy beating Rice 41-17 last year.
It certainly wasn't the highest-profile bowl victory for Schnellenberger, who led Miami to the 1983 national championship with an Orange Bowl triumph over Nebraska. He is now 5-0 in bowl games over his 23 seasons as a head coach. He won the 1980 Peach Bowl with Miami and two bowl games with Louisville, the 1990 Fiesta Bowl and the 1993 Liberty Bowl.
Still, this one had to be special, given that he is the father of FAU's program and the only head coach the Owls have ever known. The coach spoke warmly of his players, most of them from south Florida, who had faith in him.
``They came in with the understanding that this was an opportunity for them to let their football lives have great meaning,'' Schnellenberger said. ``They knew they were going to have to work harder, sacrifice more, sometimes be made fun of, but kept the faith and grew together until we got to the point now where we can compete with anybody in the nation.''
Florida Atlantic started fast and never trailed. Smith had 102 yards passing and a pair of touchdown tosses in the first 10 minutes. His second, a short pass that Edgecomb turned into a 29-yard score, gave FAU a 17-7 lead.
Memphis quarterback Martin Hankins helped the Tigers keep the game competitive into the second half, throwing for 283 yards and three touchdowns. The Tigers got as close as 30-27 after his 6-yard touchdown to Carlos Singleton.
But Memphis' next possession ended with a punt that Wilfred Rivera blocked to give the Owls the ball on the Tigers 19.
Smith cashed in two plays later, finding Jason Harmon in the end zone for a 16-yard score and a 37-27 FAU lead.
Hankins then left the game late in the third quarter with a right leg injury after getting tangled up in a heap of players after releasing a pass.
Reserve quarterbacks Will Hudgens and Matt Malouf finished the game for Memphis, which couldn't muster a significant threat in the final quarter.
``The blocked punt I thought was the turning point in the game,'' Memphis head coach Tommy West said. ``It took the air out of us, then we lost our quarterback and it kind of went downhill from there.''
Smith, the game's most valuable player, also had touchdown passes of 4 yards to Charles Pierre, 16 yards to Chris Bonner and 4 yards to Willie Rose.
``I'm so happy to help the team come to a victory in our first bowl appearance,'' Smith said. ``I don't care if I throw for five interceptions. If we win, that's all that matters.''
Smith finished the season with 3,688 yards passing and 32 touchdowns. Only a sophomore, he could be around for many more victories in FAU's future.