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<h3>Blocked punts and a blocked field goal costs Owls in 27-20 loss to Blue Raiders</h3>
<p style="margin-bottom: 0cm;">Lockhart Stadium has been the home of the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers back in the 1980s, high school football and the FAU Owls Football Team.</p>
Saturday it became a Haunted House for the Owls as FAU was looking to finally win its first home game of the year on Homecoming. Instead, the special teams unit remained at the Tom Oxley Center's practice facility and by the end of the game, senior quarterback Rusty Smith found himself along with many others headed to the MASH unit to be examined by Alan Alda and company.
With 43 seconds remaining in the first quarter, SoCoby Carter blocked a Mickey Groody punt and Sherman Neal ran it back for a 29-yard touchdown to cut FAU's lead to 10-7 over Middle Tennessee.
Another special teams blunder by Groody led to a 46-yard field goal by Blue Raiders sophomore kicker Alan Gendreau with 12:15 left in the second quarter which tied the game 10-10. Gendreau was kicking into a 10-15 mph wind and had made all 11 of his field goal attempts. To this point, Middle Tennessee had scored 10 points off FAU turnovers and the Blue Raiders had zero yards in total offense.
With 31 seconds left in the first half, Gendreau would add another field goal this time hitting a chip shot for 23-yards and increasing his streak to 12 straight. FAU led 17-13 at half-time.
Despite these special teams difficulties, FAU totally dominated the Blue Raiders in the first half by out gaining the Blue Raiders 260-73 yards in total offense. Time of possession was one-sided as well with the Owls holding onto the football for 21:39 and the Blue Raiders 8:21.
Smith had completed 186 passes without an interception until this streak was snapped late in the second quarter which led to the Gendreau field goal.
Smith went 23-45 for 304 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He also threw two interceptions both were to Blue Raiders senior cornerback Marcus Udell, who had a fine afternoon by also blocking a field goal. Going into the game, Udell had two career interceptions in his career. By the end of the day, he doubled that total.
With 9:10 left in the third quarter, the Blue Raiders blocked another punt as junior safety Jeremy Kellem did the honors but FAU's defense kept them off the scoreboard.
This was the first game since 2002 that Middle Tennessee had multiple blocks on all kicks, PAT's, field goals and punts when they hosted North Texas.
FAU kicker Ross Gornall had kicked two field goals. In the first quarter, he hit a career long 38-yard field goal. That career mark would be short-lived when he added a 42-yard field goal with 14:55 left in the fourth quarter.
Unfortunately for Gornall, Udell blocked a 34-yard field goal with under six minutes left in the second quarter. The only attire that Udell didn't wear on Halloween was a Superman outfit. Gornall has now had three field goals blocked this season.
Gendreau proved he was human by finally missing a field goal with 13:13 left in the third quarter by failing to convert a 47-yard attempt.
I've always heard the adage that indigent special teams play would cost a team at least two games in the loss column. Indeed, this became a problem as the Owls fell to 0-3 at the Unfriendly Confines of Lockhart Stadium in this 27-20 loss.
FAU receivers Cortez Gent and Avery Holley accounted for the lone Owls touchdowns. Smith fired an 18-yard bullet into the corner of the end and Gent, a redshirt senior, made an outstanding grab. Holley's touchdown was a two-yard score where he was standing alone in the end zone. Gent had four catches totaling 53 yards while Holley, a redshirt junior, added four for 29 yards.
Seniors Jason Harmon and Jamari Grant led the team with five receptions. Harmon amassed 77 yards while Grant added 56.
In addition to the special teams problems, Smith left the game with five minutes to go sustaining an injury to his non-throwing shoulder. But before departing the contest, he did surpass the 10,000 career yards mark.
However, in the end, none of this mattered to Smith and the rest of the squad as the Owls dropped to 2-5, 2-2, thus jeopardizing any chance of reaching a third straight bowl game.
FAU entered the game with two straight road wins as the Owls defeated North Texas 44-40 on Oct 17th and Louisiana-Lafayette 51-29 on October 24th.
Gaining momentum with these wins meant nothing to Smith after the loss to Middle Tennessee who said, “What we do in the past has nothing to with the present or the future.”
If there was ever a game where statistics were deceiving, this was it.
FAU out gained the Blue Raiders in total yards 434-332 and in time of possession 39:57-20:03. Red-shirt sophomore D. D. Kyles led the Blue Raiders with 140 yards rushing while junior quarterback Dwight Dasher added 108 yards rushing. Dasher picked up 74-yards by breaking loose for a long touchdown run.
Coach Howard Schnellenberger said the special teams play dictated his decision making.
“Our field goal and punt return units didn't hold up and we gave them enough gifts to sustain the win,” Schnellenberger said. “Obviously, that's a shortcoming of mine and the assistant coaches that work with those teams. We have to get that straightened out or it can happen again. We haven't gotten it corrected enough to get confident with it.
“That puts a lot of pressure on me out there to try to decide the odds with us of risking a block on a punt or field goal or should I go for it on fourth down? When you have the basics of the game of football that are not sound, it effects the whole game.”
FAU has now lost two straight games to the Blue Raiders and Middle Tennessee leads the all-time series 4-3. Middle Tennessee is 2-1 in Ft. Lauderdale.
Murfreesboro, Tennessee is located 30 miles southeast of Nashville and Middle Tennessee has the largest under graduate enrollment in the state at approximately 25,500. The University of Tennessee located in Knoxville is second with 23,000.
On deck for FAU is a visit to Birmingham, Alabama where the Owls face the UAB Blazers at 2 PM EST. If Smith is unable to play, back-up Jeff Van Camp, who attempted to rally the Owls against the Blue Raiders will get the start.
FAU defeated UAB on September 6, 2008 at Lockhart Stadium 49-34.
UAB (3-5) is coming off a 38-33 road win over the University of Texas El Paso Miners Saturday at the Sun Bowl.
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