After winning one game all of last year, the Owls aren’t going to complain about how they won the first game of the 2012 season. In front of an announced crowd of 14,510 spectators, FAU outlasted Division I-AA Wagner 7-3 at FAU Football Stadium.
Quarterback Stephen Curtis got the nod to start the game over last year’s starter Graham Wilbert. After struggling in the first half completing 4 of 10 passes for 37 yards, Curtis was replaced by Wilbert after halftime. He effectively orchestrated the offense in the second half completing 10 of 13 passes for 126 yards and the winning touchdown.
Wilbert connected with Byron Hankerson on the sideline for a 39 yard touchdown pass that gave the Owls the lead for good.
“Hit the open receiver. That’s what I did,” Wilbert said of the touchdown. “O-line had solid protection and gave me a lot of time to hit Hank.”
Pelini felt as if Wilbert gave them the best shot running their up-tempo style effectively and more importantly, winning.
“The offense wasn’t really moving the ball in the first half. The defense was giving up some first downs. So, your defense starts to get a lot of snaps, so you don’t want to go up tempo on offense because you don’t want to get the defense back on the field too quickly,” Pelini said. “When we started executing better in the second half on both sides of the ball that gave us the green light to go ahead and go uptempo. I think it helped.”
In his first drive, Wilbert ripped off two first down plays to tight end Nexon Dorvilus. However, Owls kicker Sean Kelley missed a 39-yard field goal that would have tied the game. Running back Martese Jackson had 21 carries for 99 yards to spark the second half comeback.
The Wagner defense shut out FAU for the first three quarters, taking a 3-0 lead into the final period of play.
All five of Wagner’s first half drives ended in Owls territory. Despite that, FAU’s defense managed to only give up a field goal for the entire game.
Cornerback D’Juan Smith intercepted Wagner quarterback Nick Doscher in the endzone in the second quarter to prevent a touchdown.
Both teams struggled offensively for the game, but Wagner was more efficient in the first half. They had 100 yards (split evenly for passing and running). For the game, FAU ended with 327 yards after having 86 in the first half.
“Nothing around here surprises me anymore,” Wilbert said of replacing Curtis in the second half. “Being around here for five years I’ve seen a lot of things happen.”
Wagner’s opening drive of the second half again ended up in Owls territory but they were stopped on fourth down at the FAU 36 yard line.
Despite trailing at halftime, the players remained optimistic.
“Nobody on the sideline was pouting or giving up. A lot of character was shown out there,” linebacker David Hinds said. “We were fighting until the end. We wanted the W.”
A hail mary attempt fell short by Wagner to conclude the game, wrapping up the victory for FAU.
Pelini tried to remain positive even though his team played sloppy throughout the game.
“Hey, you gotta start somewhere. How’s that? You gotta start somewhere as a program. We’ve got a lot of work to do as a football team obviously,” Pelini said. “But I do think we showed some character, we showed some integrity. We made a lot of mistakes. We hurt ourselves in a lot of ways, but we never gave up and kept fighting the good fight and I’m proud of my guys.”
FAU goes on the road to play Middle Tennessee on Saturday, September 8th at 7:00 pm.