WRITTEN BY TOM HANSLIN @tomhanslin
Robby Anderson’s 14-yard touchdown in the closing moments of the fourth quarter sealed Temple’s fate, as the Owls rallied for 14 unanswered points to defeat East Carolina, 24-14.
The second half comeback secured a record win, as Temple improved to 7-0 for the first time in the program’s history.
“We overcame shooting ourselves in the foot,” Owls head coach Matt Rhule said. “Our kids played hard. I couldn’t be prouder.”
On the first drive of the game, Temple’s defense forced a three and out for the Pirates. The Owls’ first possession began at East Carolina’s 41 yard line, which ended on a 29-yard field goal made by Austin Jones, making the score 3-0 at the 9:53 mark.
With less than two minutes remaining in the first quarter, East Carolina had a chance to tie the game, but kicker Davis Plowman missed a 40-yard field goal wide left.
After Alex Starzyk’s punt resulted in a touchback, East Carolina developed their own offensive drive, as running back Chris Hairston scored a one-yard touchdown on a 14 play drive. The Pirates led 7-3 with nine minutes remaining in the second quarter.
On the ensuing possession, Temple marched downfield, as Jahad Thomas found the endzone on a 2-yard rush. The Owls’ six-minute drive resulted in seven points, with the score 10-7 in favor of Temple with 2:59 left in the half.
Prior to halftime, East Carolina converted on third down twice, and Quarterback Blake Kemp found wide receiver Quay Johnson for a 9-yard touchdown pass to give the Pirates the lead, 14-10.
Temple’s defense limited its last two opponents (Tulane and Central Florida) to a combined 244 yards. In the first half against East Carolina, the Owls surrendered 218 yards, which included 116 yards from Kemp. Temple was also limited to 46 rushing yards against a Pirates’ rushing defense ranked third-worst in the AAC.
The third quarter opened with a quick three and out from the Owls, while East Carolina matched with their own punt.
With six minutes remaining in the third, Kemp was picked off by Senior linebacker Tyler Matekevich, which was returned for 26 yards to place Temple at East Carolina’s 41 yard line. Two offensive penalties forced a fourth and long field goal attempt, but Jones missed a few yards short to hand the Pirates the ball near midfield.
The fourth quarter began with no change in score. With less than 11 minutes remaining in regulation, Pirates’ halfback Anthony Scott fumbled, which was recovered by Temple’s Jacob Martin to hand the Owls the ball at their own 45. Quickly the game turned, as Thomas ran for eight yards on first down, while Walker found receiver Kip Patton for a 21-yard completion. After another offensive penalty, the Owls were forced to send out the field goal unit for a 37-yard attempt, but Jones missed his second kick wide to the right, keeping the score 14-10 with 7:30 left.
Temple’s defense forced another Pirates’ punt with 6:16 remaining, and after a fortuitous roll on Worth Gregory’s punt along with a holding penalty, the Owls set up shop at their own 29 yard line. After a personal foul called on Temple’s Shahbaz Ahmed, Walker connected with a wide open Robby Anderson for a 51-yard gain, placing Temple at East Carolina’s own 35.
On third down and five, Walker found John Christopher for a 9-yard gain. After a loss of three on first down, Walker was once again linked with Anderson, who shook a tackle for a 23-yard touchdown. Jones’ extra point gave Temple the lead, 17-14 with 3:31 remaining.
On the ensuing drive, East Carolina was forced to punt on fourth down, but Gregory’s kick was blocked by linebacker Sharif Finch, which was recovered by the Owls inside the Pirates’ 20. On second and nine, Walker handed the ball to his high school teammate Thomas, who squeezed by defenders for a 14-yard score, sealing the Owls’ lead to 24-14 at the 2:18 mark.
East Carolina failed to produce in the game’s final drive, and as time expired, Temple stood undefeated.
With Temple’s victory, the Owls maintained first place of the AAC’s East division, and will take on No. 11 Notre Dame next Saturday evening at Lincoln Financial Field.