Florida Atlantic (1-2) fell 21-17 to a winless North Texas team Saturday night, despite a late fourth quarter rally in which the Owls came up short and couldn't make plays when they counted most.
“They made more plays than we did, and that’s the reason why they won,” FAU Head Coach Howard Schnellenberger said after the game.
Most prominent was the continued inability to stop the opposition's ground game, as the Mean Green racked up 257 yards on 54 carries behind running backs Lance Dunbar and James Hamilton, and quarterback Riley Dodge.
“It looked to me like we virtually never stopped them,” Schnellenberger said.
Facing an injury riddled North Texas (1-3) squad that was missing 10 starters, the Owls got off to any early start driving 70 yards on the opening series and scoring on a one-yard run from Alfred Morris to take a 7-0 lead before an announced crowd of 15,143 at Lockhart Stadium.
After being moved from wide receiver to starting quarterback this past week, Riley Dodge responded comfortably by leading a touchdown drive of his own connecting with wide receiver Darius Carey on a 23-yard pass to tie the game.
“(Dodge) is a very educated runner, and a very educated field general,” Schnellenberger said of Dodge’s play. “They may be a better team now than they were when they had the other two quarterbacks.”
After a field goal from kicker Ross Gornall gave the Owls a 10-7 lead, momentum swung further in FAU's direction as cornerback Tarvoris Hill intercepted a Dodge pass in the end zone on third and goal. Van Camp and the offense then looked to capitalize, but the drive stalled after a dropped pass from tight end Nexon Dorvilus.
Despite being labeled with a "dead arm" Dodge showed poise when he threw his second touchdown of the night, finding Darius Carey open for a 46-yard score and a 14-10 lead going into half time.
The Mean Green were five for six on third downs at the break and most of that had to do with the play of Dodge, scrambling on broken plays.
“He (Dodge) found a way to scramble tonight, and it really hurt us on third downs,” FAU linebacker Michael Lockley said.
The Owls' defense continued to struggle against the Mean Green in the second period on third down as well, as North Texas would convert three more attempts in a row, before Lockley blocked a 42-yard field goal attempt to end a threatening drive.
The favor would be returned when FAU kicker Ross Gornall hooked a fourth quarter field goal attempt wide right, setting up an opportunity for North Texas to extend the lead and pull away.
Hamilton, who was rotating with starter Dunbar, then continued his work on the ground, lining up at the quarterback position on a third and two and scampering 39-yards to extend the Mean Green lead to 21-10. Hamilton ran for a career high 122 yards on the night with a 11.1 average per carry.
However, the Owls' offense responded to the score, with a three play 77-yard drive in which, Van Camp hit tight end Rob Housler in the end zone for a 36-yard touchdown, and sparked what would seem to be the workings of a comeback.
After the defense finally managed a stop on a critical third down, FAU took over at its own 20-yard line with 3:32 left in the game down only four points. But Van Camp was then intercepted on the first play of the drive, when he under threw an open Lester Jean.
Four plays later the defense responded again, forcing another key stop to set up Van Camp's redemptive opportunity to drive the field, with 2:24 left to play.
The senior quarterback quickly found tight end Rob Housler on two consecutive passes, to put the offense in business on North Texas’s 28 yard line. On the next play, the stadium erupted as Jean appeared to haul in a Van Camp pass at the two yard line. But upon further review, he was ruled out of bounds by officials.
“I think I caught that pass,” Jean said after the game. “But, unfortunately they said I stepped out when I caught the ball, so we just had to play the next play.”
A sack by the Mean Green, followed by an unsuccessful screen pass, would then set up a fourth and 16 situation for Van Camp, who dropped back and threw to a open Housler past the first down marker. But the ball was dropped, and FAU surrendered possession on downs.
The drop was Housler's second of the night, and both could have changed the outcome of the game.
“I thought he did (catch the ball), but...it was over the middle and the safety was right above him and could have hit him,” Van Camp said of the play. “You can’t blame him, it would have been a tough catch.”
North Texas then took two knee plays and the final was 21-17.
“Our goal is to win the championship and when we’re down like that we want to come back,” a disappointed Van Camp continued.
FAU will travel to Tampa next weekend for a contest against South Florida at 7:05 p.m.