Detroit (ap) — Florida Atlantic has played eight seasons of major-college football and already has a winning streak in bowl games.
Howard Schnellenberger’s championship experience must be rubbing off.
Rusty Smith threw for 307 yards and two second-half touchdowns to help the Owls beat Central Michigan, 24-21, on Friday night in the Motor City Bowl.
Florida Atlantic began playing in the Football Bowl Subdivision in 2001, but has won both its postseason games. The Owls defeated Memphis last year in the New Orleans Bowl.
“Certainly, this is going to go down as the most meaningful game we’ve had,” said Schnellenberger, who coached Miami to the 1983 national title and was hired to start Florida Atlantic’s football program from scratch in 1998. “I can’t tell you how proud I am of our entire football team.”
The teams were tied 10-all midway through the third quarter when Smith hit Chris Bonner with a 52-yard scoring pass. Smith found Cortez Gent with an 18-yard strike early in the fourth to give the Owls (7-6) a bit of a cushion.
Making their third straight Motor City Bowl appearance, the Chippewas (8-5) cut the lead to 24-21 with three minutes to play when Dan LeFevour hit Antonio Brown with a touchdown pass and then Kito Poblah for a two-point conversion. Gent recovered the ensuing onside kick, however.
Most of the 41,399 fans at Ford Field cheered the in-state Chippewas, but they were quiet as Florida Atlantic ran out the clock.
“We’ve played in a whole lot worse places than this — the Swamp, Clemson, Texas, Michigan State, Oklahoma,” Schnellenberger said.
It was the smallest turnout in the game’s 12-year history, yet Motor City Bowl chairman Ken Hoffman said the game will return to Ford Field in 2009 despite Detroit’s dismal economic forecast.
Smith, selected the game’s MVP, finished 20-for-35. Gent caught seven passes for 98 yards and Charles Pierre had 80 yards on the ground in a happy return to Michigan for Florida Atlantic, shut out at Michigan State on Sept. 13 during a game-long rainstorm.