WRITTEN BY TOM HANSLIN @tomhanslin
Defense was an incomprehensible concept for both No. 22 Temple and Southern Methodist on Friday night, but after 100 total points scored, the Owls escaped a nightmare collapse, and defeated the Mustangs in a shootout, 60-40.
Temple’s fifth conference victory improved their record to 8-1 on the year, and increased their Eastern divisional lead to two and a half games. It was also the first time in which the Owls won five road games in a single season.
Temple’s offense surprisingly began on a surge, as freshman running back Jager Gardner found an open hole three minutes in, and crossed the plain of the endzone for a breakout 94-yard touchdown rush to make it 7-0 Owls. Not only was it the first collegiate touchdown for Gardner, but it was also the longest scoring play in program history.
After three straight punts by the Mustangs, the Owls responded with another score, this time on their third drive, as Quarterback P.J. Walker connected with Robby Anderson for a 6-yard touchdown pass to increase the lead, 14-0.
On the ensuing drive, Southern Methodist generated a nine play drive for 61 yards, which resulted in a 31-yard field goal by Chad Hedlund to cut the deficit to 14-3. On Temple’s next two drives, the Mustangs’ defense forced consecutive punts, and midway through the second quarter, Mustangs’ quarterback Matt Davis rushed into the endzone for six to cap off a 57-yard drive to make it 14-10.
Owls’ punter Alex Starzyk was sent out for the fourth time on the following drive, and after a 40-yard punt, Davis ran for 48 yards on first down. With the next play spotted at Temple’s own 13, Davis handed the ball off to running back Xavier Jones, who rushed to the right for a 13-yard touchdown, placing Southern Methodist ahead 17-14 with 4:03 remaining in the half.
The subsequent possession ignited a rally for the Owls, as Walker connected with Anderson for a 25-yard completion on third and long. At the Mustangs’ own 25, Walker found receiver Ventell Bryant for 9 yards, and spotted Romond Deloatch for a 16-yard touchdown pass, placing Temple ahead 21-17 heading into halftime.
Temple opened the third quarter with possession of the football, and quickly marched down field for another touchdown, as Walker threw to an open Adonis Jennings, making the score 28-17 at the 10:43 mark. The pass solidified Walker’s first three-touchdown game of the season.
Southern Methodist returned the favor four minutes later, as a 75 yard drive on eight plays concluded on another rushing touchdown for Jones, trimming the Owls’ lead to four, 28-24.
On the next possession, Temple responded with seven more points, as Walker found Anderson for a 46-yard completion to the Mustangs’ 2, which set up a Jahad Thomas rushing score with 3:26 remaining in the third.
Southern Methodist’s groove was disrupted on the ensuing drive, as Owls’ defensive lineman Matt Ioannidis forced a fumble on Davis, which was recovered by Temple, and resulted in a 34-yard field goal by Austin Jones, making it 38-24 after three quarters.
The Mustangs continued to prove their resilience, as another touchdown from Davis made it 38-31, but on the Owls’ first play from scrimmage, Walker dumped the ball off to Bryant, who saw daylight for a 75-yard touchdown, increasing the lead to 45-31 with 12 minutes left in regulation.
Another Southern Methodist punt pinned Temple at their own 1 yard line, and on fourth down, Owls’ lineman Nick Sharga was called for a holding penalty inside the endzone, which resulted in a safety, cutting the score to 45-33. The safety placed Temple’s kicking unit onto the field once again, and on the return, Brandon West broke a tackle for an 80-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, making it 45-40 with 8:02 to go.
Two consecutive punts handed the Mustangs a chance to take the lead, but on a fourth and four to go at their own 32, Owls’ linebacker Tyler Matakevich swatted Davis’ pass, which resulted in a turnover on downs. On a third and long, Walker rolled to his right and found open room, reaching the endzone untouched for a 36-yard touchdown. After a successful two-point conversion, Temple made it 53-40, and on the next possession, Davis tossed a pick-six to Sean Chandler, closing the score at 60-40.
The Owls’ 60 points was the most points scored by their offense since Temple defeated Army, 63-32 at West Point in 2012.
P.J. Walker finished with four passing touchdowns, the most he has recorded since 2013. It was also Walker’s fourth five total touchdown game of his career, which included 317 total yards. Ventell Bryant was the Owls’ top receiver for the second straight week, as he tallied one touchdown on only two receptions for 84 yards.
Both defenses surrendered 933 total yards combined, including 41 first downs and 480 yards through the air. Quarterbacks Walker and Davis both completed 18 passes, and recorded a rushing touchdown.
Temple’s record improved to 8-1 for the first time since 1973, and will wrap up their road schedule next Saturday afternoon in Tampa Bay against South Florida.