The Florida Atlantic Owls (10-3) hosted the Akron Zips (7-6) at their home stadium for the Cheribundi Tart Cherry Boca Raton Bowl. Akron came into the game with the MAC East title and yet another winning season. Florida Atlantic had a tremendous rebound from last year’s 3-9 season, this year earning a Conference USA Championship.
Kato Nelson came to play as a dual-threat for Akron, but Florida Atlantic had other plans. Nelson passed completed nine of his 15 passes for 80 yards. He finished the game without any interceptions or touchdowns. A.J. Coney led the Zips with 28 receiving yards on two catches. Austin Wolf was close behind with 26 yards on three receptions. Robbie Kelley cam in for six passes, completing one for a loss of three yards.
Terry Bowden used a run-pass option against the owls, giving Kato Nelson and Manny Morgan plenty of carries each. Manny Morgan led the Zips with 41 yards on 17 carries. Kato Nelson finished with 21 yards on his 14 carries. The Zips finished with 69 total rushing yards on 37 carries.
Nick Gasser attempted two field goals, making one from 19 yards and missing one from 38 yards. Gasser is also the punter, but that job was not needed until late in the first half. He punted away to the Owls seven times, averaging 46 yards per punt.
Jason Driskel led a very quick Owl offense that regularly averages 15 seconds per play. He finished 19-for-25 and 270 passing yards, including two touchdowns and no interceptions. Kalib Woods led Florida Atlantic with four receptions for 79 yards. Willie Wright also recorded the two receiving touchdowns.
Florida Atlantic’s rushing attack was the focus of the offense. Running back Devin Singletary came into the game ranked first in the nation in rushing touchdowns and fourth in the nation in rushing yards. Today, Singletary ended with 26 carries for 124 yards and three touchdowns. As a team, the Owls earned 312 rushing yards on 60 carries. Florida Atlantic had excellent success on fourth downs. They converted five of their six fourth-downs, scoring touchdowns on three of those.
Greg Joseph had a rough night, making neither of his two field goal attempts. Joseph missed from 44 and 45 yards out. Florida Atlantic’s punter Ryan Rickel came out for only one punt for 34 yards.
The Owls tried to score first, but Greg Joseph’s 44-yard field goal missed wide right. Akron responded with an explosive drive led by quarterback Kato Nelson, but Nick Gasser missed his 38-yard field goal. Jason Driskel put the first points on the board on a four-yard touchdown pass to Willie Wright on fourth down.
The second quarter saw a 19-yard field goal from Nick Gasser to cut the lead to 7-3. Florida Atlantic responded with another long scoring drive. On another fourth down, Jason Driskel ran in for a three-yard score for the Owls. The Zips had no answer and pinned the Owls deep in their own red zone. Florida Atlantic took only four plays to go 87 yards for a touchdown. Devin Singletary capped the drive off with a six-yard touchdown run. That 21-3 Owl lead held until halftime.
Akron started the half with a turnover on downs near midfield. Florida Atlantic turned that into points on a two-yard touchdown run from Devin Singletary, again on fourth down. Willie Wright helped Florida Atlantic score again on a three-yard reception, followed by a two-point conversion from another scoring reception. The Owls’ 36-3 lead stood through the third quarter after the Owls missed a 45-yard field goal attempt.
In the fourth quarter, Jason Driskel began the scoring for the Owls with a seven-yard touchdown run. Devin Singletary earned the last of his three touchdowns on a 26-yard run. Florida Atlantic allowed the clock to run down while the Akron comeback bid fell short.
Losing in the Boca Raton Bowl was never a part of the plan, but Akron will not be down for long. The Zips finish with a 7-7 record overall, 6-3 in the MAC. Florida Atlantic will take home a 11-3 record, including 9-0 in Conference USA.