A 47-year coaching veteran, Howard Schnellenberger knows a "valiant effort" when he sees one.
"Coming into this thing on the road, playing a tough, traditional, Division One football team in a very major conference who plays a very top-of-the-line schedule : it looked like we belonged," Schnellenberger said after his Florida Atlantic Owls opened their first full season in Div. I-A football with a 30-19 loss to Kansas University on Saturday night at Memorial Stadium.
The Owls actually led, 13-12, following a shocking 66-yard touchdown pass from Danny Embick to DiIvory Edgecomb with 3:02 left in the third quarter.
"I knew they were going to come back because they don't want to be embarrassed - a Big 12 team, a Division One team embarrassed by whatever we are, a team stepping in Division One," FAU quarterback Embick said after completing 20 of 28 passes for 299 yards and three touchdowns.
The Jayhawks did storm back, outscoring the Owls, 18-6, the rest of the way.
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The happenings down the stretch did not discourage Schnellenberger at all.
"If I can do anything to help this group make the move (to Div. I-A), to use my years of experience, to let them know this was not a bust, this was a very important step," Schnellenberger said.
"I don't think we are ready to do it yet," he said of his Sun Belt squad consistently beating teams in major conferences, "but I think this game will really help us. We know we don't have a chance to win the national championship this year. We are very fortunate scheduling these kind of teams, getting practice playing them because in the next couple of years we should be playing for the national championship."
Just a sophomore, Edgecomb, who caught three passes for 71 yards and rushed for 17 on nine carries, believes the Owls soon will be tripping teams like KU.
In fact, a victory wouldn't have been out of the question Saturday, he said.
"They did not live up to my expectations at all," Edgecomb said of KU. "I was expecting Kansas to be a big powerhouse defense with the seniors they have. If we played to the level we practiced, I believe we could have come out with a win.
"It wasn't really that physical at all," he added. "Me being an undersized back (5-10, 185) and going against three experienced linebackers, I thought they were going to try to run over me, run over our offense and stuff like that. We gave it our all. The end result wasn't what we wanted. We've just got to learn from it and go on to next week."
The Owls, who play host to Oklahoma State on Thursday in Boca Raton, Fla., were outgained by just nine yards - 378 to 369.
However, FAU gained just 70 yards rushing off 37 carries.
"We really couldn't run the ball," Embick said. "If you can't pound the ball, it leaves a burden on the offense. We couldn't get any lengthy drives, which I believe is why the defense gave up 28 of the 30 points (two came on a safety).
"They wouldn't have given up 28 if we had not had them out there all night. We can't just plow those big guys over, a Big 12 defense. But we needed some ground yards."
They might have made the difference.
Or as Schnellenberger told his team, which headed to the locker room hearing a hundred or so FAU fans cheer and chant, "FAU, FAU," ... "I told these young men the difference between winning and losing this game was not very much."