WRITTEN BY TOM HANSLIN @tomhanslin
Throughout the course of the season, Temple head coach Matt Rhule has stressed the importance of grit and triumph when it comes to the way the Owls’ perform in the fourth quarter.
On Saturday night, his wish was finally granted.
Keith Kirkwood’s leaping eight-yard catch in the back of the end zone with just one second remaining sealed Temple an improbable 26-25 victory over Central Florida in an American Athletic Conference thriller at Bright House Networks Stadium in Orlando.
Trailing 25-20, the Owls took over on their own 30-yard line without a single timeout to spare. From there, quarterback Phillip Walker connected with wide receiver Ventell Bryant for three straight completions, handing Temple a first-and-goal with only eight seconds remaining. The ensuing snap produced the game-winning completion to Kirkwood, helping cap off an unimaginable four-play, 70-yard drive.
After a lackluster first half from Temple, a comeback win appeared to be far-fetched. With 12 minutes remaining in the second quarter, the Knights held a comfortable 25-7 lead after UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton broke out of the backfield untouched for a 63-yard touchdown run. But the Owls managed to stop the bleeding, as halfback Jahad Thomas scored a seven-yard touchdown which cut the score to 25-14 at halftime.
Once the second half began, Temple held its own on defense and slowly began to eat away at the Knights’ lead with help from a true freshman kicker. Aaron Boumerhi drilled two field goals in the third quarter, the first from 32-yards deep and the second from 47, trimming the Owls’ deficit to five.
In the fourth quarter, Central Florida’s miscues were in full bloom. After missing a 43-yard field goal attempt with 12:41 remaining, the Knights’ offense quickly returned to the field after a short three-and-out from Temple. This possession, however, concluded with an interception by Temple defensive back Nate Hairston, his first of the season.
While a momentum shift seemed imminent, the turnover wouldn’t lead to any points for Temple. Central Florida then forced and recovered a fumble on fourth down, seemingly putting an end to any late heroics.
That was until UCF failed to covert on its next three plays. On a 4th and long, the Knights were forced to punt with 41 seconds left, which ultimately set up Temple’s final rally.
Thomas, who scored multiple touchdowns in his fifth consecutive game, finished with 120 rushing yards on 27 total carries in Temple’s first win in the state of Florida since 1938.
The Owls (4-3, 2-1) will host the South Florida Bulls (6-1, 3-0) on Friday night at Lincoln Financial Field.