WRITTEN BY TOM HANSLIN @tomhanslin
Temple’s defensive prowess was no match for Toledo’s offense on Tuesday night, as Rockets’ quarterback Phillip Ely tossed two touchdowns for 285 yards to defeat the Owls, 35-17 in the Marmot Boca Raton Bowl.
The contest, however, did not lack controversy in the closing minutes. Trailing 25-17 with 2:50 remaining, a successful onside kick recovery by the Owls was ruled Toledo’s ball by officials without video confirmation, eliminating an offensive opportunity for Temple to tie the game.
“I have no explanation,” said Temple head coach Matt Rhule. “That could have been reviewed and it wasn’t. I got no explanation [from the officials].”
The bizarre turn of events concluded with a late 41-yard touchdown run by Kareem Hunt to seal the deal, capping off Toledo’s third bowl game victory in the last six seasons.
The night began with wet weather conditions, as Temple managed to draw first blood with a 30-yard field goal made by Austin Jones, the only scoring between teams in the first quarter. After a punt by Toledo to start the second quarter, the momentum surprisingly swung entirely in the Rockets’ favor, as Temple running back Jahad Thomas fumbled deep in the Owls’ territory, with the ball rolling out of the endzone for a two-point safety.
With the score at 3-2, Toledo was granted offensive possession, and in less than two minutes, the Rockets marched downfield on five plays for 55 yards, scoring a touchdown on a 26-yard pass to receiver Corey Jones to make the score 9-3.
After five more changes in possession, Toledo tacked on three more points as the first half expired, a 38-yard field goal made by Jameson Vest to increase the Rockets lead to 12-3 at the half.
Temple received the second kickoff with a burst of energy, as Quarterback P.J. Walker connected with receivers Ventell Bryant and Brandon Shippen for a combined 53 yards to set up the Owls deep in Rockets’ territory. The eight-play drive was stalled by Toledo on third down at the eight yard line, which forced a 25-yard field goal by Jones, cutting the deficit to 12-6.
Following a punt by the Rockets midway through the third, Temple responded with a scoring drive, but was forced to settle for three points once again, trimming the score to 12-9.
With less than 13 minutes remaining in regulation, Toledo needed only one play from scrimmage to make the Owls’ hole even deeper, as Ely connected with Cole Thompson for an 80-yard breakout touchdown to increase the lead to 19-9. On the ensuing drive, Temple’s scoring chances were diminished, as a pass from Walker was intercepted by Juwan Haynes at the Rockets’ 34 yard line.
Toledo responded with seven more points of their own in a span of five and a half minutes, as a 12-play drive for 84 yards was completed on a 1-yard rushing score by Hunt.
At the three minute mark, Temple’s offense rallied with their first touchdown of the game, a 2-yard rush by Kip Patton to cut the score to 25-15. In order to be down by a single score, the Owls kept the offense out on the field for a two-point conversion, and Walker successfully found Robby Anderson in the back of the endzone to make it 25-17.
With Temple in onside kick formation, kicker Tyler Mayes followed the rolling ball to midfield, where he managed to land on the live ball under a heap of players. As officials frantically searched for the ball, it was concluded that the Rockets recovered the kick, leaving Rhule and players in confusion on the field and sideline.
“I thought we got it,” said Owls’ linebacker Tyler Matakevich. “The ref at first said we had it, but unfortunately they said we didn’t get it. We had a shot to stop them and get the ball back and unfortunately we just didn’t do it.”
The mayhem turned into despair for Temple as Toledo poured on the final score, eradicating the Owls’ chance to earn 11 wins for the first time in a season.
“I think you have to be very careful to take it for what it is and move forward,” said Rhule. “This loss doesn’t define us.”
Temple finished the game with 335 yards of offense, while Toledo tallied 435 yards for four touchdowns. The Owls’ offensive struggles were also due to the absence of Jahad Thomas, who suffered a knee injury in the second quarter and failed to return to the game. Walker finished with 236 passing yards, completing 23 passes on 42 attempts. With Thomas’ injury, Walker was also Temple’s leading rusher with 30 yards.
Despite a devastating loss in his final collegiate game, Matakevich made 12 tackles, and recorded career tackle 493 to surpass Steve Conjar as Temple’s all-time tackles leader.
“This is the last time I’m going to wear this uniform, you know, so, it just sucks,” said Matakevich. “I told those younger guys ‘Don’t let this happen again’. I know they won’t. I know they’re just going to get better from here and they’re going to keep moving in the right direction.”
Rockets’ Phillip Ely completed 20 of 28 passes for 285 yards, while running backs Kareem Hunt and Terry Swanson combined for 132 yards on 26 carries for two touchdowns. Cody Thompson was the star receiver, finishing with 119 yards and a touchdown on four receptions.
Temple’s historic season concluded with an overall record of 10-4, the highest win total for an Owls team since 1979. Of the 14 games played in 2015, Temple was nationally ranked in seven games. After two decisive victories over Memphis and Connecticut in the last two weeks of the regular season, the Owls finished the campaign with two consecutive December losses.
“We had a great year,” said Matakevich. “We accomplished so much, more than any Temple team in a long time. Temple is on the rise, and I don’t care what anyone says, and we’re going in the right direction.”
Temple will begin the 2016 campaign on Sep. 3 against Army at Lincoln Financial Field.
PHOTO BY: ROB FOLDY/GETTY IMAGES