WRITTEN BY TOM HANSLIN @tomhanslin
Trailing by two points in the fourth quarter, Temple was given a scare by winless Central Florida, but two late touchdowns from running back Jahad Thomas rallied the Owls over the Knights, 30-16, keeping the Owls’ undefeated season alive.
The victory improved Temple’s record to 6-0, a feat that has not been reached since the 1974 season under head coach Wayne Hardin. With six wins, the Owls clinched bowl game eligibility, a preseason goal made by current coach Matt Rhule.
“For the guys who didn’t go to a bowl game, for the guys that worked, for the guys that didn’t quit, to know that they’re 6-0, I’m ecstatic for them,” said Rhule.
The Owls received the opening kickoff, and on the first drive of the game, Thomas capped off a nine play, 73 yard drive with a 12-yard rushing touchdown. It was the first time that the Owls scored a touchdown on their first drive this season.
After four straight punts, the Knights drove down field, and after a costly facemask penalty on Nate D. Smith, Central Florida settled for a 48-yard field goal made by Matthew Wright, cutting the Knights’ deficit to 7-3.
On the ensuing drive, Temple’s offense regained momentum, as Quarterback P.J. Walker found receiver John Christopher for 28 yards to put the Owls near midfield. On second down, Thomas found a hole for a 33-yard rush, giving Temple their second trip inside the red zone. On a third down at the Knights’ 3-yard line, Walker connected with Ventell Bryant in the back of the endzone, placing the Owls ahead 14-3 with 10:47 left in the half.
The next drive forced Central Florida’s punting unit on the field for fourth down, but Owls’ Adonis Jennings rushed the punter and blocked Caleb Houston’s punt, forcing a turnover to place Temple’s offense at the Knights’ 29 yard line.
On the second play from scrimmage, Walker was abruptly picked off by Shaquill Griffin, who returned the interception for an 80-yard touchdown, trimming the Owls’ lead to 14-10 with 7:34 remaining.
Two drives later, Central Florida was once again forced to punt, but Owls’ Robby Anderson muffed the ball, which was recovered by the Knights at Temple’s 20 yard line. The red zone drive resulted in three more points for Central Florida, making the score 14-13 Owls at halftime.
As Central Florida walked into the tunnel en route to the locker room, Rhule kept his players out on the field, and huddled them on the sideline for a brief rebuke.
“I just told them that I want them to be in the moment,” said Rhule. “Sometimes when we play at home, we get so caught up in everything. We’re fragile at times. You can never attack what’s in front of you.”
On the first drive of the third, the Knights’ offense found a groove, and looked to Wright for another 41-yard field goal to give Central Florida the lead, 16-14.
The ensuing Owls’ drive led to more misfortune, as Walker fumbled the ball on third down which was recovered by the Knights. But on a third and long, Central Florida quarterback Justin Holman was picked off by Sean Chandler, handing Temple the ball at their own 25 midway through the third.
The fourth quarter opened with a Knights’ punt, which was returned by Chandler for 65 yards to place Temple at Central Florida’s 21. After a loss of one yard on first down, Thomas redeemed himself on second down, and found a hole for a 22-yard touchdown run. The Owls elected to go for a two-point conversion, and successfully scored with a pass to Colin Thompson, making the score 22-16 in Temple’s favor.
Another Knights’ punt handed the Owls the ball at midfield, and after a horse-collar penalty that placed Temple at the 21-yard line, Thomas made his third rush to the endzone, increasing the Owls’ lead to 30-16 after another successful two-point conversion attempt.
The final Central Florida drive concluded in a pass-deflected interception from Matakevich, as the Owls ran out the remaining minutes to seal their sixth consecutive victory.
Check out what #TUFB had to say following last night's win.
— Temple Football (@Temple_FB) October 18, 2015
Saturday night was the second game in which Temple trailed in the fourth quarter to an inferior opponent, and Coach Rhule believes that the team has yet to learn how to put a team away for good.
“We’re not at that stage that we put them away,” said Rhule. “We have to establish an attitude of putting someone away, and I have to do a better job.”
Four turnovers were surrendered by the Owls offense and special teams, as one costly interception came from Walker which resulted in a touchdown, while two muffed punts from Sean Chandler and Robby Anderson were recovered by the Knights.
“If we want to continue to win, something’s got to change,” said Rhule. “The drops, the penalties on offense, and the turnovers.”
Jahad Thomas’ stellar performance was overlooked by Temple’s adversity thru three quarters, but once Thomas turned on the jets, he locked in, and tallied 199 yards on the ground with three scores.
“No one was worried about being down,” said Thomas. “We had to take it one play at a time, and we executed, and got the win.”
Despite dominance from Thomas, it was the Owls’ defense that kept the game alive, forcing seven punts and two interceptions. Central Florida finished with only 134 total yards, with quarterback Holman finishing with 67 passing yards on 31 throwing attempts.
“We’re going to keep pushing, and we’re not going to let you score,” said Matakevich. “We hate when we give up field goals, and that says a lot about our mentality.”
Matakevich also made history in the first quarter, as he recorded his 400th career tackle, the third most by any player in program history. Legendary linebacker Steve Conjar remains in first place with 492 tackles, with Lance Johnstone in second at 429. To surpass Johnstone, Matakevich will need only 23 more tackles, as he recorded eight on Saturday night.
The first half of the season is now in the books, and although Temple has received bowl eligibility in mid-October, six regular season games remain, with the names of Notre Dame and Memphis still weeks away.
“To be bowl eligible, that’s our goal, but we’re not satisfied,” said Matakevich. “We’ve got something special in front of us. It’s ours for the taking, but we can’t let up.”
Temple’s next opponent will be conference rival East Carolina (4-3), which will be played on short rest, as the Owls travel down to North Carolina for a Thursday night game in Greenville.
Coach Rhule believes that six wins is a program accomplishment, but not the team’s final destination.
“These guys know that they’re going to a bowl game, but get that out of your system,” said Rhule. “This was expected. Now, what’s next, what’s ahead? East Carolina. In how many hours it is.”