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FAU Tops Hilltoppers On Senior Day

Jeff Van Camp throws three touchdowns and runs for another in 29-23 win

If you were to look at these numbers, Saturday's game between the FAU Owls and the Western Kentucky University (WKU) Hilltoppers appeared to be a mismatch.

Going into the game, WKU was outscored 422-202.

The Hilltoppers opponents out gained WKU 5,065-3,257 in total yards. WKU's average per-game was 325.7 compared to their opponents 506.5.

Through 10 games, the Hilltoppers had five sacks for 33 yards while their quarterbacks have been hammered being sacked 31 times for 220 yards. Two of WKU's sacks occurred in their 21-18 loss at Louisiana-Monroe Nov 14.

To post these lackluster numbers would make total sense as to why the Hilltoppers had an 0-10, 0-6 Sun Belt Conference record. The year has been so bad for the Hilltoppers that they lost to a Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) team Central Arkansas 28-7 on September 19. Central Arkansas recently moved up to the FCS division from the Division II level.

Common logic would tell you this game had the makings to be a rout. But as the old saying goes, that's why these contests are played between the lines.

Last Season, FAU defeated WKU on the road in Bowling Green 24-20 with senior quarterback Rusty Smith at the helm.

But what a difference a year makes. Smith wouldn't face the Hilltoppers at Lockhart Stadium. Then again, not many people would see it. The announced attendance was 14,671 factoring tickets that were sold.

Even though I had major back surgery this year, my eyes are fine and it looked like there were between 4-5000 fans on hand as the game time temperature was 72 degrees, the wind 5 SW, and the weather was classified as a “Nice Beach Day.” It didn't hurt that it was Thanksgiving Weekend and there is no doubt that the amount of no shows had other plans.

For those who did show up, they had the chance to see some fine performances.

Running back Alfred Morris rushed for 122 yards while junior quarterback Jeff Van Camp completed 16-30, 266 yards and threw for three touchdowns. He also rushed for another touchdown to lead the Owls to a 29-23 win.

Lester Jean was Van Camp's primary target as he caught four passes for 99 yards, plus two touchdown receptions while senior tight-end Jason Harmon had a final night to remember.

Harmon caught three passes for 47 yards and a touchdown, had four kickoff returns for 85 yards including a 27 yard run. He led the team with 132 all-purpose yards.

Prior to the game, WKU lost eight games by double digits. One contest against Louisiana-Lafayette was a 30-22 score but if it wasn't for a late WKU score, that contest would have been decided by double digits. As I mentioned, the Louisiana-Monroe game was decided by a field goal.

All of these developments have led to the firing of Hilltoppers Head Coach David Elson.

Two missed extra points by Ross Gornall enabled the FAU score to be closer but when it was over, the Owls were just pleased to see their record improve to 4-7, 4-3 as they get set to face Florida International University (FIU) in the Shula Bowl at 7 PM. WKU dropped to 0-11, 0-7.

Wide receiver Cortez Gent had three receptions for 39 yards in his final appearance at Lockhart Stadium. He knew that WKU would be looking to spoil FAU's last home game.

“They're coming off a bye week so they had two weeks to prepare and nothing to lose,” Gent said. “We've been pretty down just looking back on the season. We weren't worried about how many yards their defense had been given up and where they ranked nationally defensive wise. Our job is to come and execute and win the game.”

FAU's offense out gained WKU 427-368.

Van Camp said his team realized that WKU was winless but by no means were they taking them lightly.

“We came out and wanted to win and that's what we did tonight,” Van Camp said. “They played a great game and we thought we should have beat them by a lot more than what we did.”

Van Camp added that he's pleased that he's been able to continue to make progress with his play.

“I've learned with a lot of game time experience, Van Camp said. “If Rusty wasn't hurt, and nobody wanted that to happen, there was only one good positive and I was going to get some experience going into next year. Nothing is better than game time experience and I'm glad I got it.”

Jean said that if would have been nice to see Smith on the field in uniform instead of in street clothes.

“It would have been great to have Rusty under center,” Jean said. “He did a lot for this program but either one of them (Van Camp or Smith) would be great. As long as the offensive line blocks, they're both great quarterbacks.”

Harmon said that while it would have been nice to finish the season with his fellow senior Smith, he added there is one game that stands out in his career playing at Lockhart Stadium.

“I think we only filled it up once since I've been here and that was against USF,” Harmon said. “That's the biggest and most fun game I've had.”

I'm sure it was because Harmon caught seven passes for 82 yards and one touchdown including a 32-yard reception. FAU lost to No. 6 USF 35-23 on October 6, 2007.

The Bulls finished with a 9-4 record while the electricity at Lockhart Stadium was tremendous since there was a lot of USF alumni on hand wearing green and gold. FAU finished the season 8-5 and made it to the New Orleans Bowl.

Senior defensive tackle Josh Savidge said he's enjoyed his experience playing Division I Football.

“It's been an incredible journey,” Savidge said. “You have to play hard every second you get because you never know when your time is up and when it's up, it's a hard moment. Luckily, I have one more game against our rivals FIU and I'm looking forward to the battle. It's definitely going to be one.”

Savidge said he feels this team has underachieved.

“Definitely, definitely and it's very disappointing,” Savidge said. “We fought hard this year. It's like the years that we went to New Orleans, the games we lost this year, we won when it came down to the end like that. That's really what it is. Every game in the Sun Belt was a battle. It comes down to the end all of the time and you have to win them. We just didn't. It hurts. We're a lot better than a lot of these teams and hopefully they'll come out and show that.”

Coach Howard Schnellenberger wasn't worried about his team winning style points to blow out the Hilltoppers as all of the other teams have, He was just pleased to end the season at home on a winning note and had high praise for his opponent.

“They certainly are a well coached, classy competitors that have come so close in so many of their games,” Schnellenberger said. “They've certainly built a lot of character and they were as tough as a lot of the teams we've played. That's for sure. They didn't give up and it took two interceptions, a recovered fumble, a recovered onside kick for us to beat them.

“It was a very big win for us because it came the hard way and our defense mounted enough tenacity to shut them down enough times so the offense could score enough points to win the game. It's a win that came along at a very important time for us.”

Schnellenberger said there is good news about the progress on Smith's health.

“It's been sad thing for us, him and the team,” Schnellenberger said. “But those things happen and the satisfaction of the thing is that it's (left shoulder) isn't hurt that bad. He's going to have an easy recovery without having an operation.

“That's a credit to his thoroughness from his mother and father, grandmother and grandfather of their investigation into the injury that it wasn't as severe as first thought. Without any kind of an operation, he's already had a full range of motion without very much rehab. So it looks like he'll be able to show his stuff pretty soon.”

But it won't be against FIU Saturday night in Miami.

The Owls visit the Golden Panthers in their third different stadium in three years. In 2007, FAU faced FIU in the Orange Bowl. Last season's contest at Dolphin Stadium was one of the best football games I've ever seen as FAU won a 57-50 contest in overtime that earned them a trip to the Motor City Bowl! That game will be one tough contest to top at FIU Stadium.

Last years Motor City Bowl opponent Central Michigan has bounced back from their loss to FAU 24-21, with a 9-2 record. Central Michigan faces Ohio (8-3) in the MAC Championship game at Ford Field Friday December 4 at 8 PM.

Ford Field appears to be the likely destination for FAU's 2010 contest against Michigan State since the Spartans were supposed to open the Owls new on campus stadium but delays have changed those plans.

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