Published On: Sat, Dec 2nd, 2017

FAU Owls Crowned Conference USA Champions

By: Michael Demyan

The Owls celebrate after winning the Conference USA championship. Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

For the first time ever, the Florida Atlantic University Owls are Conference USA champions.

It is not the first conference championship for the school as they went on to win the Sun Belt in 2007, but after three-straight seasons with a 3-9 record and being without a winning record since 2008, Saturday’s 41-17 victory against North Texas feels all the more sweeter.

“I think today was, just like the whole season, but especially today, all about the players,” head coach Lane Kiffin said. “Our players, for the ninth week in a row, played really good football. I’m kind of speechless for them; it’s a cool story. This has been different. I really have just sat back and watched these kids, and really learned to appreciate the moments more.”

For those players, especially the ones who have been with the program for years, getting the championship trophy is something they have been waiting for and something there have put a lot of effort into achieving.

After three-straight 3-9 seasons, new head coach Lane Kiffin has led the Owls to their first conference championship since winning the Sun Belt in 2007. Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

“It’s a long time coming for a lot of us,” quarterback Jason Driskel said. “I’ve been here for a long time and had rough times. It’s just a culmination of all of our work.”

The Owls finished the season with nine straight victories heading into their inevitable bowl game, reaching double digit victories for the first time since they won 11 all the way back in 2003. The main highlight of the team has been its offense, which continued per the norm throughout the first half.

FAU got off to a hot start, scoring five times before halftime. A field goal from Greg Joseph and 22-yard pass from Kamrin Solomon to John Franklin III gave the Owls a 10-0 lead by the end of the first quarter. Another field goal and two rushing touchdowns from Devin “Motor” Singletary then put the Owls up by 27.

North Texas did start to put on some pressure during the third quarter, however. After FAU extended their lead with a 54-yard Kalib Woods touchdown, the Mean Green responded with their first two scores of the game, bringing the score to 34-9.

Kalib Woods (4) was named the MVP after breaking the program’s single game-record of 208 receiving yards. Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The Owls’ drought continued to start off the fourth quarter as Evan Johnson ran the ball in to set up a two-point conversion attempt. Quarterback Mason Fine quickly got pushed back by the Owl defense, resulting in a Hail Mary pass to a mob in the end zone. After bouncing off of multiple players, the ball landed almost perfectly in the hands of the Mean Green’s Rico Bussey.

With the score at 34-17, FAU finally started to move the ball forward again, resulting in a five-yard run by Singletary, ending the scoring at 41-17. Singletary tied the C-USA record for rushing touchdowns in a season on the play, which is now an honor he will share with FAU running backs coach Kevin Smith. Smith set the record of 29 in 2007 with UCF.

It looked like the Owls had one more touchdown in them with the minutes winding down as Franklin burst through the defense and into the end zone, but his celebration came a bit premature. He dropped the ball a half-yard before crossing the line, resulting in a fumble after the play was reviewed.

Kissing the championship trophy as cardboard-Lane Kiffin watches from the background. Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The players did not let the mistake dampen their spirits however, as they celebrated by giving Kiffin a Gatorade bath before fans rushed onto the field. Woods went on to be named the game’s Most Valuable Player after breaking the program’s single game-record of 208 receiving yards.

“Everything schematically says we shouldn’t be here,” linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair said. “Everything that anybody knows about football… says we shouldn’t be here. Individual stories, my story personally, I feel like I shouldn’t be here. Kalib (Woods), same thing. A lot of these guys, that’s the story of this team. That’s a whole bunch of guys who have been told all their life they don’t belong. And now that we’re here, it’s a blessing.”

Now the Owls await the news of which bowl game they will be a part of, because after the season they’ve had this year, they do belong.

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