FAU (3-2, 1-0 C-USA) won its 5th Shula Bowl in a row, defeating the FIU Panthers (1-4, 0-1 C-USA) by the score of 58-21. Quarterback N'Kosi Perry led the Owls' offense, throwing 18-21 with 329 yards and three touchdowns. He only played three quarters, finishing the day with an 86% completion percentage. Johnny Ford [photo] rushed for 102 yards and a touchdown, adding another 91 yards through the air and a second touchdown, totaling 193 yards on the day.
It started off as a back and forth affair, with the Owls striking for their first opening-drive touchdown of the game to take a 7-0 lead just 1:08 into the game. Quarterback N'Kosi Perry capped off that drive with an eight-yard touchdown run to take that early lead. FIU followed that score up with a touchdown rush of their own by running back D'Vonte Price seven minutes later, tying it at seven. The defenses would hold on throughout the quarter to keep the game tied after the first quarter.
The offenses exploded in the second quarter, with FAU running back James Charles capping off a five-play, 80-yard drive just 24 seconds into the quarter to put the Owls up 13-7. Willie Taggart Jr. was stopped short of the end zone on a two-point conversion to keep the score that way. Two minutes later, FIU quarterback Max Bortenschlager found wide receiver Randall St. Felix for an 11-yard touchdown pass to make it a 14-13 ballgame.
Perry's arm produced two unanswered touchdowns to give FAU a commanding lead, firing a dot in the corner of the end zone to tight end Zaire Mitchell-Paden to start, when finding Johnny Ford for a huge 89-yard pass to give the Owls the 27-14 lead.
FIU wide receiver Tyrese Chambers would finally answer the bell with a 68-yard touchdown reception from Max Bortenschlager to make it 27-21 with 4:54 to go in the first half. Then, Perry found speedy wideout Je'Quan Burton for a 42-yard touchdown three minutes later to give the Owls the 34-21 lead heading into halftime.
After an Aaron Shahriari field goal to open the second-half scoring, FAU quarterback Nick Tronti joined the scoring party with a five-yard touchdown to make it a 44-21 game with 1:49 to go in the third quarter.
FAU's defense would not allow a score in the second half, holding the Panthers to just 115 total yards of offense in the process. The offense added two more touchdowns to make it a 58-21 final score.
Here are our team's takeaways from the exciting win:
- Fast Start - For the first time this season, and arguably the Willie Taggart era, FAU’s offense attacked quickly to open the contest. Although the next three drives ended in a three-and-out, turnover-on-downs, and another three-and-out, respectively, a first quarter touchdown was a nice change of pace to what we have grown accustomed to.
- Big Crowd - About 25,000 fans had tickets for Saturday’s Shula Bowl. Yet again, the students packed the lower section of the Eastern sideline. This time, the Western sidelines was filled to the brim to help make an impressive home field advantage.
- Difference in Culture - FIU might have a massive enrollment advantage over FAU, almost double the amount of students. Yet those involved in creating a positive, traditional campus culture in Boca Raton over the last decade should pat themselves on the back. Today was a perfect example of how far our college culture has grown, especially when compared to FIU’s. Despite having the shortest travel distance, FIU had the smallest visitor turnout we have seen this season.
- Turn up for Conference Play - No matter what happens the rest of this evening, FAU will finish the night tied for first place in C-USA’s East Division. It is absolutely crucial to start conference play strong. Ask MTSU who is already out of contention with an 0-2 conference record. Or with Marshall who is currently down 28-14 at halftime to that very MTSU team. An opening win puts FAU in the driver seat.
- Seventh Heaven - It's safe to say that the Owls found the face of their offense in N'Kosi Perry. In just three quarters of play, he was absolutely dominant. making huge passes into tight windows and making clutch throws under pressure. It's clear that he's comfortable with this offense now, and it showed on the scoreboard. On top of his 329 yards and three touchdowns through the air, he added 32 rushing yards along with a touchdown and even had an 11-yard reception. He's comfortable in the pocket, he's capable of making those huge passes, and he has the elusiveness to make things happen when the pocket collapses.
- Ford Tough - Johnny Ford was electric for the Owls, even after appearing to be injured following a 22-yard rush in the first half. He came back and fired on all cylinders with an 89-yard receiving touchdown from Perry. He almost bobbled it because he didn't see it coming, but once he caught it, it was all green grass ahead of him. "[Ford] is my first read on that particular play depending on the coverage," Perry said. "I saw him wide open and when I threw the ball, I saw he wasn't looking at me so I was definitely nervous and then he bobbled it so it got my heart racing even more, but once he got it, I knew he was gone. And gone he was - showing the blistering speed he was known to have since transferring from USF. His 102 yards on the ground along with 91 receiving yards put him at 193 yards from scrimmage.
- The Price Is Wrong - Going into this game FIU running back D'Vonte Price had at least 50 rushing yards in each of his first four games, having over 100 in his first two. FAU's rush defense came to play against him this week, only letting him rush for 34 yards in their Shula Bowl win. In total, the Panthers rushed for just 69 yards, a far cry from the 446 the Owls allowed last week against Air Force. The defense is looking dominant against the run going into conference play, and that bodes well for FAU's conference title hopes.
- How Does It Feel - Queue the harmonica (and Bob Dylan): "…ah, how does it feel? To be on your own, with no direction home…Like a complete unknown, like a rolling stone." Butch Davis is now 0-5 against FAU and his teams have been outscored 234-85 overall. Begs the question: How does it feel?
- Rivalry Status - With the Owls looking to move on to the next level in pursuit of their conference advancement, one has to wonder what will happen to this treasured game if they are successful. The Panthers were technically already in the Sun Belt when the Owls joined that league. Later, FIU beat FAU to the punch again, gaining an invitation to become a member of C-USA one year before the Owls were in. However, this time around it will likely go the other way as it simply doesn't seem feasible that the two will be paired in an AAC scenario - or any other scenario in all reality. Given the all-time record, FIU may chose to move on themselves from what has been a heavily lopsided and losing proposition - especially if no forced scheduling is in the mix.
- Tronti Shines - QB Nick Tronti had a spectacular showing when coming in for N'Kosi Perry, showing that the Owls in deed have a very capable option in the veteran signal caller. The former Mr. Florida connected on five-of-six attempts for 68 yards through the air and ran for 32 yards on four carries with a score. Couldn't ask for more.
- Afternoon Delight - What a literal breath of fresh air. Clear skies and a low relative humidity afforded those in attendance with no sweat droplets protruding from the brow. And, most importantly, no weather delays. There were smiles for miles from attendees returning home to their dorms, and up and down I-95 and across the campus given the win.