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Comeback bid falls short as North Texas beats Owls 20-14

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Comeback bid falls short as North Texas beats Owls 20-14

Early turnovers and mistakes doom FAU in fourth straight loss

New jerseys, same result.

Florida Atlantic gave it all they could Saturday night, but three turnovers in the first half and a slew of errors proved to be costly in a 20-14 loss to North Texas.

The Owls ran out onto the field wearing red jerseys for the first time in school history, but the new digs couldn't provide enough of a spark as the team got off to a lackluster start.

Quarterback Graham Wilbert drove the offense down the field on the team’s first possession, but threw a costly interception in the red zone ending a scoring threat.

The error would prove to be a common theme on the night for the Owls.

North Texas quarterback Derek Thompson was able to capitalize on the turnover and connected with Brelan Chancellor for a 68-yard touchdown pass giving the Mean Green an early lead.

Wilbert was intercepted on his next pass attempt and things quickly started turning for the worse.

The defense was able to generate a stop but once the offense was back on the field, they continued to struggle.

Head Coach Carl Pelini elected to call for a fake punt on his own 38-yard line to swing moment, but the unit failed to convert on a run and turned the ball over on downs.

The Mean Green once again took advantage of an Owls’ mistake and an added a field goal to extend the lead to double digits.

FAU looked poised cut into the deficit before halftime, but Wilbert was sacked and fumbled the ball at the North Texas’ 15-yard line.

The turnover marked Wilbert’s third of the half and the second trip into the red zone without points.

The Owls had 165 yards of total offense at the break, but had been sacked on four separate occasions and simply didn’t look motivated.

“It was a lack of focus. We didn’t come out focused and we didn’t come out executing like we were suppose to and that ended up costing us the game,” running back Damian Fornter said.

In the third quarter North Texas added another touchdown, on a nicely designed throwback pass to a wide-open tight end and it appeared that the visitors were ready to run away with the contest.

FAU however wasn’t ready to throw in the towel.

Wilbert constructed a drive down the field that was capped off by an 11-yard touchdown scamper from Fortner.

A few plays later cornerback Keith Reaser stepped in front of a North Texas pass and intercepted the ball inside Mean Green territory.

Wilbert then scored on an 11-yard touchdown run of his own and the Owls appeared to be mounting a comeback.

The offense had scored twice in 1:12 and were able to cut the lead to just a field goal early in the fourth quarter.

However, the mistakes from the first half resurfaced.

The defense held North Texas to a field goal attempt, but a personal foul penalty on the kick kept the drive alive. The Owls’ front seven were able to get another stop, but a running into the kicker penalty on the field goal try resulted in another first down.

Finally the Mean Green connected on a field goal, but the drive had taken up a significant chunk of game clock primarily due to the penalties.

Once the Owls got the ball back, they quickly went three-and-out and had to punt.

Wilbert and the offense would eventually get one more opportunity  to try and score, but couldn’t even produce a first down.

“It’s the same old thing; we don’t know how to win. We need to learn how to win as a football team and as a program. When the game was on the line, we couldn’t get over the hump,” Pelini said.

Fortner (photo) finished the game as the team’s leading rusher with 65 yards on 17 carries including the score.

Wilbert was just 21 of 34 for 142 yards and had the two costly interceptions.

“We didn’t execute like we needed to and just shot ourselves in the foot. I felt like the entire game we were going to win,” Wilbert said.

North Texas managed ten points off of the Owls’ turnovers and miscues, which was good enough to win them the game.

“We made mistakes, over and over again. We didn’t convert in the red zone. We made mistakes defensively and gave up a long play. When we are down 17-0, we start to play until it got close again and the pressure is on us, and then we don’t get the win,” Pelini said.

The Owls will get a break next weekend with a bye before they prepare to travel to ULM.

Game Notes:

- Wide receiver William Dukes was the team’s leading pass catcher, hauling in six balls for 62 yards. He continues to look like a legitimate deep threat for the Owls and snagged a 32-yard catch down the sideline to help produce the team’s first score.

- The defense held the Mean Green to just 307 yards of total offense – the lowest number this season since the opener against Wagner. North Texas was limited to only 56 rushing yards and were tackled seven times behind the line of scrimmage.

-  Reaser recorded his third career interception and his first of the season. The Owls now have four interceptions on the year, all by different members of the defense. The defensive back also added four tackles.

- Fortner for the second straight week was featured in the "Wildcat" formation. On FAU's first scoring drive he took multiple snaps out of the backfield and ran left or right. The package produced 21 yards of offense and two first downs.

Twitter: @andrewrivins
Email: [email protected]
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