Wide receiver Lajohntay Wester (pictured top, left via FAU Athletics) came out in full force for the Florida Atlantic football team, helping them coast to a 38-16 victory over the Charlotte 49ers on Friday evening at Jerry Richardson Stadium.
With the win, their overall record improves to 4-4 and sees them take full control of fourth place in the conference standings with a 3-1 display in AAC play. They remain behind No. 22 Tulane, SMU, and UTSA. This also marks the first time in two years that FAU won a game outside the state of Florida, with the last one also coming from a blowout victory over Charlotte in 2021.
"This was a big one. We are being held together by bubblegum and duct tape on defense right now and we lost a couple more tonight. But these guys never cease to amaze me the way they respond to adversity and really embrace being the next man up and, if you are a backup, preparing as if you are a starter. Although it didn't look pretty at times, hats off to the defense," head coach Tom Herman said.
Struggling last week against UTSA as he only turned in 14 yards on four catches against the Roadrunner defense, Wester bounced back with a career performance against Charlotte. He finished with a career-high 149 receiving yards and a pair of touchdowns on 10 receptions to show for it.
"I hope somebody from the Biletnikoff Award is watching…I think we've got one of the best receivers in the country, if not the best, and I will die on that hill proclaiming our enjoyment of coaching him and just to be around him and the impact that he has on every single football game has been fun to be a part of," Herman remarked.
Allowing a field goal from the 49ers to start the game, FAU responded in timely fashion with quarterback Daniel Richardson (pictured top, right via FAU Athletics) dotting a pass to tight end Zeke Moore (pictured below via FAU Athletics) in the end zone for the touchdown. It was the second touchdown the freshman has scored this year for the Owls.
The Owls went on to carry that momentum in the second quarter, outscoring the 49ers 14-3. Richardson fired two touchdown passes to Wester in the end zone, the former being a 21-yarder and the latter being for 26 yards that wound up being reviewed as Wester had his toes close to the out-of-bounds line.
FAU did not let their foot off the gas to begin the second half, having quarterback Michael Johnson Jr. burst his way for 19 yards into the end zone for the team to have their biggest lead of the night at 22. Even though Charlotte countered that with a touchdown, it ended being the only one for the 49ers as the Owls' defense locked in to prevent them from reaching the end zone for the remainder of the contest.
"I thought the offense, we had four possessions in the first half and put the ball in the paint in three of them and really set the tempo and gave us some confidence there. We hit a lull in the third quarter and then we responded again," Herman said.
Conceding one last field goal from Charlotte, FAU scored 10 unanswered points as kicker Carter Davis successfully converted his attempt from 38 yards while running back Larry McCammon III punched the ball for four yards into the end zone to put the finishing touches on a game that was in FAU's control for a great majority of the night.
Even though Charlotte tried to keep the ball for long periods of time by having possession for less than 39 minutes, the Owls made sure to make the most of their drives by scoring 38 points while carrying the rock for just 21 minutes.
FAU's defense constantly frustrated the 49er offense for the entire night. They made Charlotte go 4-of-19 in third-down conversions while having them commit 12 penalties for a total of 104 yards, with both stats being the highest the Owls have made an opponent go so far this season.
The Owls were also aggressive in making things difficult for Charlotte's quarterbacks. They made 10 tackles for a total loss of 57 yards which includes five sacks from defensive linemen Evan Anderson, Latrell Jean, Decarius Hawthorne, Jaden Wheeler, and outside linebacker Morven Joseph.
Richardson showcased plenty of improvements following the loss to UTSA, throwing for 216 yards and three touchdowns on 18 completions. McCammon III led FAU in rushing yards once again with 67 yards on 15 carries including the aforementioned touchdown. Johnson Jr. was also more active in the run game this time around, gaining up to 45 yards on five rushes.
Safety Jarron Morris showcased his tenacity against the 49er offense, making a game-high 11 tackles (five solo). Safety Darius McClendon followed suit with 10 tackles (six solo) as well as a pass breakup and a quarterback hurry, while Anderson and linebacker Desmond Tisdol came next with eight tackles each.
With the progress the team has made in winning on the road, Herman said they are aware that they have to go and do it again for next week.
"We went 1-0 tonight and are 0-0 against UAB, but we also know the big picture. We have four games left and we are going to have something to say if we take care of business in who plays for that conference championship," Herman stated.
The Owls will conclude their two-game road trip on November 4th when they travel to Birmingham to face the UAB Blazers at 3:00 PM, which will be broadcast on ESPN+. UAB is currently in a bye week, as their record stands at 2-6 (1-3 AAC).