By: Cayden Steele,
Freshman walk-on quarterback, Kamal Gray, found out he was starting less than four hours before kick-off on Saturday.
Temple planned on starting redshirt-freshman Matt Duncan, but the 6’1 quarterback is now suspended indefinitely for violating team rules, said head coach Rod Carey. Just a few weeks ago, Gray was the team’s fifth string quarterback.
Gray did not have time to process the news, the freshman began preparing with his coaching staff instantly.
“First of all, I went through all the plays with the coaches, asked any questions I had, walked through all my reads,” said Gray. “Soon as that was over, I texted my dad and told him, I knew he would be excited.”
Gray and the offense never quite found their groove on Saturday as the Owls (1-6, 1-6 AAC) lost 28-3 at home against the Pirates on Saturday. Temple struggled to find any consistency on offense and only gained 235 yards the entire game.
On Temple’s redzone possession before the end of the first half, Gray stepped back and floated the pass into double-coverage to Branden Mack, East Carolina defensive back Shawn Dourseau snagged the underthrown pass for his second-interception of the season.
The Pirates (2-6, 2-5 AAC) would score two plays later on a 46-yard touchdown throw from Holton Ahlers to slot receiver Tyler Snead. Snead darted across the middle and found himself open with nobody near, giving the Pirates a 21-3 lead before the half.
To begin the second half, Mack came in as the emergency quarterback for two drives. They wanted Gray to calm down and see the game from the sideline, said Carey.
Gray later re-entered the game and his teammates praised his composure and attitude.
“As a freshman defensive lineman you have other people playing besides you,” said Daniel Archibong. “As a freshman quarterback, you’re the only one out there, I’m sure all the pressure was on him and he was feeling that. I think he did a good job, obviously things to improve on.”
The Owls once again were depleted with injuries and had five players ruled out before kick-off due to contact tracing with starting cornerback Christian Braswell and starting defensive end Arnold Ebiketie among them.
The extenuating circumstances have taught the players to deal with adversity.
“Teaching our young guys how to fight through adversity, the older guys on our team kind of went through it already,” said Mack. “We all just have to learn from it and grow from it.”
The Pirates offense gained 447 yards, but besides a few long-plays, the Owl’s undermanned defense held Alhers and his supporting cast in check.
Not including Snead’s touchdown at the end of the second quarter, there were three key plays that shifted the outcome of the game.
With seconds remaining in the first quarter, Alhers dropped back and found C.J. Johnson along the sideline and he avoided Temple cornerback Elijah Clark’s tackle attempt and sprinted for a 60-yard touchdown. The long-ball gave the Pirates a 7-0 lead.
Later on, the special teams unit gave up a 95-yard touchdown to Snead. Will Mobley kicked the ball short and Snead found an open lane and never looked back giving ECU a 14-3 lead.
The final play that made it almost impossible for Temple to come back happened in the beginning of the third quarter, Alhers ran 75-yards to the one-yard line after finding a wide open hole in the Owls defense.
The next play, Pirates head coach Mike Houston called a quarterback sneak and Alhers ran it for the touchdown, to give the Pirates the 28-3 lead which they never relinquished.
Despite these plays, Carey left the game feeling optimistic about his younger-defensive players.
“I think we responded pretty well, we had to move a safety to corner and then we were playing all freshmen, except Jalen Ware who we moved out to corner,” said Carey. “Our defense played hard, but we have some stupid things in there that we got to clean up. For the one play touchdown we just have to get him down, different things like that, but certainly there were some well executed things too.”
The defense forced some turnovers during the game. At the beginning of the second quarter, Jordan Magee the redshirt-freshman linebacker picked off a pass and returned it for 44-yards to the red zone.
Right before the first half was over, freshman linebacker Kobe Wilson stripped running back Rajahi Harris and Evan Boozer leaped on the fumble and recovered it.
Next, the Owls will play Cincinnati (7-0, 6-0 AAC) at Lincoln Financial Field next Saturday.