For the second consecutive season, the Florida Atlantic University football team converted six fourth-down conversions against WKU, but this year belong to the Hilltoppers as WKU held on for a 35-19 Conference USA victory on Saturday.
“They did some good things,” FAU Head Coach Charlie Partridge said. “We knew he [Doughty] would be tough to get to. All the credit in the world goes to Western Kentucky, they did a nice job today.”
The Owls (2-7, 2-4 C-USA) tallied 348 yards of offense with no turnovers and just one punt on the day. Senior Jaquez Johnson threw 11-of-27 for 137 yards and two scores while rushing for 33 yards. Freshman Trey Rodriguez led the running back corps with 74 yards on 15 carries while Jenson Stoshak made four grabs for 101 yards and a touchdown. FAU's six fourth-down conversions is the second most in FBS this season.
WKU (8-2, 6-0 C-USA) was held to just 280 yards passing, its second-lowest mark of the year, but earned 509 yards of offense. Brandon Doughty threw for 273 yards with four touchdowns and an interception.
“We were aggressive on fourth down,” Partridge said. “We went for it seven times and got six of them. With one of the most powerful offenses in the country, you have to try and restrict their opportunities and we did.”
Florida Atlantic stopped the Hilltoppers first drive and responded with a 15-play, 85-yard drive. The play of the drive was electing to go for it on fourth and three. Johnson found tight end Tyler Cameron on the far sideline with a six-yard connection that extended the drive for the Owls. Two plays later, Johnson connected with Stoshak, who went up for the 19-yard pass high and out of reach for the WKU defender and came down with the first score of the game with 6:41 remaining in the first quarter.
The second quarter began with WKU equaling the score at seven with a four-yard reception ending a 15-play, 75-yard drive with more than 14 minutes to play in the half.
The Owls’ first drive of the second quarter saw FAU convert its second fourth down attempt. With the Owls in punt formation, freshman Trey Rodriguez ran the ball 22 yards to pick up the first down on the WKU 33. FAU would make good on the chain movement with two more first downs and a 20 yard field goal by Greg Joseph to go up once more at 10-7 with 8:22 remaining in the first half.
The lead would be short lived. Three plays later, the Toppers were in the end zone and holding their first lead of the game 14-10 with 7:21 to play in the half.
Jason Driskel stood under center for the Owls third drive of the game and he too moved the chains into WKU territory. The Owls would go for it on fourth and sixth. Driskel hit Stoshak over the middle, completing a 24 yard pass and taking the Owls to the Hilltopper four. Joseph would connect on a 21 yard field goal to pull the Owls within one at 14-13 with 2:05 remaining in the half.
The final two minutes of the half included a would-be FAU fumble recovery, which was overturned on a review, and an undeniable interception by Cre’von LeBlanc (pictured), his C-USA leading fourth of the 2015 season. The Owls would take over and run the remaining minute off the clock to head into the locker room down 14-13.
FAU opened the second half with a nine-play, 45-yard drive that ended with a missed 47 yard field goal attempt. WKU took over with its first drive of the second half at the Hilltopper 30. Two plays later, FAU defense was faced with defending the WKU offense at the FAU 24. Five plays later, WKU was in the end zone and the score was 21-13 Hilltoppers.
The Owls’ sixth attempt on fourth down was at the Hilltopper two. They remained perfect, this time with Johnson finding tight end Nate Terry in the left corner of the end zone. FAU would attempt a two-point play to even the score but Johnson was flushed out of the pocket and couldn’t find his receiver. FAU’s nine play, 38-yard drive ended with the Owls trailing by two at 21-19 with 2:29 remaining in the game.
In the closing minutes of the third quarter, WKU’s Doughty led the Hilltoppers 76 yards and found his receiver in the end zone as the clock signaling the end of the third quarter. WKU opened the fourth quarter with a 28-19 lead.
FAU’s first drive of the fourth was its lone three-and-out of the game, but Dalton Schomp boomed a 64-yard punt to the WKU 13-yard line to pin the Hilltoppers deep. Doughty again marched WKU downfield for a 13-play, 80-yard drive to increase the lead to the eventual final of 35-19 with 5:36 to play.
The Owls drove into the redzone, going 60 yards in just 1:33, but failed to convert their seventh fourth-down conversion of the day.
The Hilltoppers drove to midfield and ran the clock out to remain undefeated in Conference USA play.
The Owls will play host to Middle Tennessee at noon, on Saturday, Nov. 14.
- Katrina McCormack