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Owls falter on the road in 24-17 loss to Navy

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Owls falter on the road in 24-17 loss to Navy

FAU blows 10 point lead, Wallace runs for 111 yards and 2 TDs

Florida Atlantic traveled to Annapolis knowing one thing.

They needed to stop the triple-option in order to win the game.

However, they wouldn't be able to do that Saturday afternoon as Navy would pitch, dive and pass their way past FAU.

The Owls built a ten point lead early in the contest, but a collapse by the defense would result in a 24-17 win for the Midshipmen.

"We felt like we could win this game and it came right down to the end and we had an opportunity to win it. I just wish we would have executed better," Head Coach Carl Pelini said.

For the first three Navy offensive possessions, the Owls’ defense appeared to have the triple-option attack figured out. The Midshipmen missed a field goal and where forced to punt twice while struggling to pick up yardage and move the sticks.

However after that, it would be a different story.

Adjustments made by their coaching staff resulted in quarterback Keenan Reynolds throwing the ball more than usual and that spelled trouble for the Owls’ secondary as the Midshipmen would score 24 unanswered points.

"Playing Navy is always a chess match. Every time you make an alignment, they will make an adjustment then you have you have to adjust and then they will make another adjustment," Pelini said.

FAU had constructed a lead in second quarter thanks to a 1-yard touchdown run from running back Jonathon Wallace (pictured courtesy of Ralph Notaro at Owlpix.com) and a school record tying 53-yard field goal from kicker Mitch Anderson, but the visitors strong start would quickly fade.

The defense – which had stymied the Midshipmen’s offense to start the game – soon began to miss their assignments which resulted in large gains for Navy.

Reynolds would toss a 14-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter after scampering 48-yards on a quarterback keeper. On the next drive he would connect with his fullback for a 22-yard gain and then run in a touchdown from 1-yard out to give his team a lead.

The advantage the Owls had held on the scoreboard, disappeared in a little over five minutes as time expired for halftime.

Navy would continue to throw the ball to start the second half and on 4th-and-8 from FAU’s 31-yard line, Reynolds would hit wide receiver Brandon Turner for a 31-yard touchdown pass.

The Midshipmen add a field goal, to extend the lead to 24-10, and it appeared that the Owls were all but done.

Quarterback Graham Wilbert led the Owls’ offense out onto the field and nearly tossed an interception on third down. Pelini elected to punt the ball away and rely on a defense that was struggling against the pass to make a stop.

The decision proved to be a smart one, as linebacker Andre Kirk recovered a fumble, on a botched exchange between the quarterback and center.

The fumble was the Midshipmen’s only turnover of the game and re-energized FAU’s sideline.

The Owls continued to work Wallace on the ground, and the ball carrier would punch in his second touchdown of the day on a 3-yard run, marking the team’s first points since the second quarter.

The defense responded with another stop of the Midshipmen and Wilbert would get the ball back trailing by just seven points with a little over five minutes remaining in the game.

Wilbert would find tight end Nexon Drovilus over the middle for 19-yards to move the Owls into Navy’s territory, but mistakes would hamper any chance for points.

The offensive line couldn’t provide protection for Wilbert who was forced to make throws on the run, and a costly false start on third down would set the unit back.

Wilbert then connected with wide receiver Jenson Stoshak on a throw to the sidelines, but the ruling on the field was incomplete and a review upheld the call.

The Owls had one more chance to gain a first down, but Wilbert was flushed from the pocket and threw an incomplete pass ending any hopes of a comeback.

"(Navy) doesn't give up big plays. They sit off and make you earn it," Pelini said.

Wilbert finished the game 25-of-35 for 205 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. The outing was good enough to earn him his fourth consecutive game with over 200 yards passing but his first without a touchdown pass.

Wallace led FAU on the ground and ran for a career-high 111 yards and two touchdowns. The yardage earned him his second game this season over the century mark.

The Owls held the Midshipmen to just 246 yards rushing, but gave up 147 yards passing – the second highest total for Navy this season. A majority of those yards came in crucial situations, and kept drives alive.

Reynolds accounted for 306 of Navy’s 393 total yards as a true dual-threat quarterback. The freshman ran for a career-high 147 yards, as the Owls couldn’t contain the triple option.

FAU’s 323 yards of total offense was the lowest mark in three games.

The loss comes as the 15th straight on the road for the Owls, and sixth this season.

"I think we're still making progress, I think we were a better team today than we were a week ago. We have to continue to make progress," Pelini said.

The team will travel to Western Kentucky next weekend to take on one of the top squads in the Sun Belt Conference this year.

Game Notes:

- Leading 10-7 in the second quarter Pelini made an interesting decision by electing to send his offense out onto the field for a 4th-and-2 conversion from Navy’s 15-yard line. Instead of kicking a short field goal with a little over two minutes remaining in the half, the coach decided to try and keep the drive alive. The call proved to be one of the turning points of the game as the Owls failed to convert and exited the red zone with no points.

- Anderson’s 53-yard field goal in the second quarter tied the longest kick in school history. The previous boot came from Mark Meyers in 2003 against Northern Arizona. Anderson has rebounded nicely after his performance against South Alabama in which he had three kicks blocked. Since then he is an impressive 3-of-4 and perfect on extra point attempts.

- While Wallace was a force running the ball, he also found a niche in the passing game. Numerous times Wilbert would check down to the running back as a last resort option. Wallace responded nicely snagging a team-high seven passes for 34 yards. The seven catches matched his total number of receptions all season long.

- Damian Fortner received one carry in the game as the backup running back, and the attempt resulted in a fumble. The Owls were moving the ball early in the third quarter, before Fortner would commit the mistake at midfield. The junior wouldn’t receive another carry in the game, as the turnover marked the team’s 11th fumble lost this season.

Twitter: @andrewrivins
Email: [email protected]
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