DETROIT — Florida Atlantic has played eight seasons of major college football and already has a winning streak in bowl games.
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.
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 3 minutes to play when Dan LeFevour hit Antonio Brown with a touchdown pass and then Kito Poblah for a 2-point conversion. Gent recovered the ensuing onside kick, however.
Smith, selected the game’s MVP, finished 20-for-35. Gent caught seven passes for 98 yards.
LeFevour was 28-for-40 for 253 yards with two touchdowns and a first-quarter interception that led to the Owls’ first touchdown.
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. 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.
Chrysler LLC pulled out of its Motor City Bowl sponsorship commitment in early November, leaving Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Corp. as the game’s major presenters.
The Motor City Bowl has a contract with ESPN through the 2013 season.