Bowling Green, Ky. — Florida Atlantic scored 21 points in the second quarter, and got 192 yards rushing and two touchdowns from Charles Pierre in a 24-20 win over the Western Kentucky University football team Saturday at Houchens Industries-L.T. Smith Stadium.
The loss was the fourth in a row for WKU as it fell to 2-6 on the season. The Owls improved to 2-5.
"Our offense came out and did some better things tonight. FAU wanted to run the ball against us, and they did," said Hilltopper head coach David Elson. "For the most part, we played them even in the second half. It probably came down to three or four plays that made the difference."
The Hilltoppers were able to move the ball effectively on the first drive of the game — thanks in part to a 50-yard return by Bobby Rainey on the opening kickoff. WKU drove 33 yards in eight plays before settling for a 29-yard Tanner Siewert field goal to take an early 3-0 lead.
The defense came up big on Florida Atlantic's second series of the quarter. After allowing the Owls to drive inside the 10 yard line on just six plays, WKU stopped the FAU offense three times to bring up a 4th down play at the two yard line. Travis Watters, Blake Boyd and a host of defenders were then able to stand up Chris Bonner short of the goal line to get the ball back on downs.
However, the quick three-and-out by WKU from the shadow of their endzone led to the first Owl score of the game as FAU got the ball back at the Topper 20 yard line. Pierre was able to cap off a four-play drive with an eight-yard touchdown run to give Florida Atlantic a 7-3 lead with 14:31 to go in the half. It was one of two scoring runs for Pierre in the opening half as he rushed for 143 yards before intermission.
The Hilltoppers continued moving the ball on the ground, quickly regaining the lead thanks to a pair of long touchdown runs. Marell Booker put WKU in front once again thanks to a 37-yard touchdown run to make it 10-7 with 11:56 remaining before halftime. Tyrell Hayden then capped off a five-play, 96-yard drive with a 64-yard run to paydirt as the Toppers took a ten-point lead with 6:56 remaining before halftime. It was a career-long rush for Hayden, and the longest play from scrimmage by the Hilltopper offense in 2008.
Hayden went on to lead WKU with 84 rushing yards on the evening, while Booker finished with 70 yards on five carries.
FAU quickly regained the momentum, however, as on the very first play of its next drive, Pierre broke a 74-yard TD run to cut the WKU advantage to three. The Owls then closed the half with a 9-play, 76-yard drive as Rusty Smith found Willie Rose for a 13-yard score as Florida Atlantic took a 21-17 lead into intermission.
Smith completed eight of his 13 passes in the first half, and finished the game 15-for-23 for 174 yards and a touchdown.
Each team posted just three points each after halftime. WKU made the first turnover of the game pay off as Dan Cline was able to cause and recover a fumble by Smith deep in Florida Atlantic territory. After getting the ball inside the 10 thanks to a pair of Owl personal foul penalties, the drive stalled as Siewert knocked through his second field goal of the game from 22 yards out to cut the Topper deficit to 21-20 with 8:22 remaining in the third quarter.
WKU got the ball back with a chance to take the lead, driving down to the Florida Atlantic 16 late in the third quarter. However, Ed Alexander picked off a Dexter Taylor pass in the end zone to stop the drive and preserve the one-point lead.
The Owls took advantage, driving 74 yards in 12 plays. They capped off the drive with the final score of the game early in the fourth quarter when Warley Leroy connected on a 23-yard field goal to make it 24-20 with 11:12 remaining. The Owls were forced to settle for three points after the Hilltopper defense was again able to make three stops inside the 10 yard line.
WKU was forced to punt on its ensuing possession, and FAU was able to run 4:57 off the clock before punting the ball back to the Toppers with 3:17 remaining in the game. However, the Hilltoppers were stopped on 4th-and-3, allowing Florida Atlantic to run out the clock for the victory.
The Hilltoppers finished the game with 240 yards rushing — their most rushing yards since finishing with 248 at Eastern Kentucky in the second game of the season. FAU rushed for 225 yards in the contest, and outgained the Hilltoppers 399-317 in total offense.
WKU will have a week off before returning to action Nov. 1 when they host North Texas at 3:30 p.m. (CDT) in the 2008 Homecoming game.