WRITTEN BY TOM HANSLIN @tomhanslin
FOXBORO, Ma.- Austin Jones’ 32-yard field goal with 12 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter secured Temple’s fate, as the Owls escaped an improbable upset with a thrilling 25-23 victory over Massachusetts Saturday afternoon.
Prior to the Owls’ game winning score, Massachusetts managed to take the lead on a 56-yard touchdown drive with 1:20 left in regulation, but on the ensuing Minutemen’s extra point attempt, Temple’s Praise-Martin Oguike blocked the kick, and linebacker Will Hayes returned the play to the endzone for a two point conversion to cut the Owls’ deficit to 23-22.
The Owls began the game’s final drive at their own 35 yard line, and on the second play from scrimmage, quarterback P.J. Walker found an open Ventell Bryant for a first down completion of 11 yards. The next set was converted on a third down pass to John Christopher, which placed Temple at midfield.
With less than 30 seconds left on the clock, Walker hit Adonis Jennings for another 12 yards, and after an incomplete pass on the ensuing first down, Bryant gained four yards on second down, forcing the Owls to use their final timeout with 18 seconds remaining. On third down an six yards to go, Walker once again connected with Christopher, setting up Temple’s kicker at the Minutemen’s 15 yard line with 12 seconds on the clock.
As Jones took position to kick, Massachusetts froze the play with their final timeout, but Jones did not concede to the pressure, and drilled the ball through the uprights with seven seconds remaining. The Owls attempted a squib kick that was returned to the Minutemen’s own 34, and with two seconds left, Massachusetts fumbled on the final play as time expired.
Saturday afternoon began in sluggish form, as Temple struggled to produce offense in the first quarter. Luckily for the Owls, the first score of the game came with under two minutes left in the first, as Walker tossed a 23-yard touchdown pass to Jennings to make it 7-0 Owls. On the ensuing drive, halfback Markel Michael fumbled, and lineman Matt Ioannidis recovered the turnover to bring Temple’s offense back on the field. With the ball at Massachusetts’ 39 yard line, the Owls pounded in another touchdown, increasing the score to 14-0 in the opening minutes of the second quarter.
In credit to Massachusetts, the Minutemen refused to let up, and responded with their own 58-yard touchdown drive to cut the score to 14-7 at the 12:31 mark. The Owls returned back on offense, but a forced throw by Walker resulted in an interception by safety Khary Bailey-Smith. After back to back punts, Massachusetts retained possession, and drove 58 yards downfield for a 34-yard field goal by Blake Lucas to make it 14-10 Temple with 4:24. The Owls then responded with their own 34-yard field goal by Jones to extend the lead back to a touchdown differential.
Massachusetts failed to convert on the next drive, and punted the ball back to the Owls near midfield. On the second play, Walker threw his second interception of the game, bringing the Minutemen back on offense with two minutes left. Massachusetts quarterback Blake Frohnapfel immediately found receiver Tajae Sharpe for 29 yards on two plays, and on a fourth down and three yards to go at the Owls’ 10, the Minutemen elected to go for it, and converted a three yard gain, which later resulted in a game tying touchdown to receiver Rodney Mills. The score was knotted at 17 entering halftime.
The third quarter resulted in minimal scoring, but on the first drive of the second half, the Owls developed an eight minute drive which resulted in another Jones field goal, putting Temple ahead 20-17.
The fourth quarter had a combined six punts that elapsed nearly twelve minutes, and with a little over three minutes left in regulation, Forhnapfel was picked off by Stephaun Marshall, handing Temple the ball at Massachusetts’ 33 with 3:05 remaining.
On first down, Owls’ halfback Jahad Thomas rushed for seven yards, but on second down, Thomas fumbled, with the football instantly recovered by Massachusetts for second life. It was Thomas’ second fumble this season with under five minutes remaining in regulation.
To the crowd’s surprise, the Minutemen responded with a miraculous 59-yard touchdown drive to give Massachusetts their first lead of the afternoon. But in their attempt at the extra point, Temple blocked the kick, and earned a two point conversion which cut the lead to 23-22. Temple would ultimately score on Jones’ third field goal, and the Owls improved to a 3-0 start for the first time since 2010.
Walker owned an air attack Saturday, completing 28 of 48 passes for 391 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. It was the most passing yards for Walker since he earned 382 against Central Florida in November of 2013. Fornapfel totaled similar yardage, as he earned 393 yards with three touchdowns and a pick. The game’s leading rusher was Jahad Thomas, who rushed for only 66 yards on 25 carries. Massachusetts’ receiver Tajae Sharpe brought in 156 yards on 11 total attempts, but his teammate Rodney Mills collected 104 yards with two vital touchdowns.
Both teams combined for 896 total yards, which included only 112 yards rushing. Controversial penalties also cost Massachusetts a fighting chance, as they were charged with 12 penalties for a loss of 106 yards, compared to the Owls’ seven flags for 70 yards.
Massachusetts fell to 0-2 on the season, and will travel to South Bend to face the nationally ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish next Saturday afternoon.
Temple earned their first victory in the state of Massachusetts since defeating Boston College in 1990, and head into a Week 4 Bye before traveling to North Carolina to face the Charlotte 49ers on Oct. 2.