By Joseph Santoliquito
The parking lot outside of Lincoln Financial Field was a jamboree, filled with painted faces, jelly belly painted torsos, and what seemed like enough flowing beer to fill the Gulf Of Mexico. Philadelphia isn’t exactly a booming college football town, like Columbus, Ohio, Ann Arbor, Michigan, or good ‘ole Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where college football is religion. But the little booming college town that formed outside the Linc was jamming and the fans that gathered sure put on one hell of an imitation before Temple and Villanova locked up in the second annual Mayor’s Cup game Friday night.
And Temple and Villanova did their best to put on one hell of a show before 32,193–the second-largest Temple crowd at the Linc–that filled most of the lower bowl. The game proved college football can sell in Philadelphia, traditionally considered a “pro town,” though it’s fair to say it won’t ever pass as one of the those college football bastions like Gainesville, Florida, Happy Valley, or Knoxville, Tennessee. No, this small taste of what a real college football environment will suffice. This area is already extremely spoiled with one of the best college hoops atmospheres in the country (blessed with one of the best arenas–thank you always Palestra).
It seems two years in, this Mayor’s Cup looks like a good idea. You’re dealing with two local schools that have fervent fanbases and two programs that seem on the same level with one another. This second go-around was no different from the first, with Temple and Villanova slugging each other back and forth like two neighborhood tough guys fighting over who gets the girl. Temple knocked around Villanova, which had eight players that had to be helped off the field–and featured one jarring snot-bubbler when Temple guard Colin Madison leveled Villanova nosetackle Thomas Weaver with a blind-side block on Matt Brown’s 17-yard touchdown run in the first quarter.
It also saw the Owls’ Brandon McManus nail a 53-yard field goal to close out the first half, the long-range boot was the second-longest in Temple history, behind Tom Bitterlich’s school-record 56-yarder in 1975.
But it was the Wildcats that took a 14-13 lead into the fourth quarter, and opened that edge even more when Chris Whitney connected with Norman White for a 21-yard touchdown pass at the outset of the fourth quarter, which gave ‘Nova a 21-13 lead. Another McManus field goal drew Temple to within 21-16 with 6:28 left. Then with Temple’s defense stiffening, the Owls finally struck back when Chester Stewart hit a streaking Michael Campbell down the middle of the field with a 62-yard TD strike with 4:07 left to play–giving Temple a 22-21 edge, after a failed two-point attempt.
So a classic was made even more classic with the defending FCS national champion Wildcats having to drive up the field for a winning field goal with 4:01 left. Three-straight Whitney incompletions gave Temple back the ball with 3:30 remaining, and from there, the Owls pounded away with Heisman hopeful Bernard Pierce, who was used judiciously throughout the game.
But a topsy-turvy game got even more insane.
All seemed to be tipping in Temple’s favor–when … Stewart fumbled a snap and ‘Nova’s John Dempsey pounced on it for the Wildcats at the Temple 22, with 2:17 left. Whitney lost two yards on the ensuing play and Temple took its final timeout with 2:08 left. By this time, many in the crowd were standing, as the Wildcats’ Nick Yako nailed a 41-yard field goal for a Villanova 24-22 lead with 1:51 still hanging on the clock.
Stewart rebounded to lead Temple back. With time winding down and no timeouts left, the redshirt junior drove the Owls down the field … leaving it all up to the golden foot of McManus, who came through with a 43-yard field goal with :03 left, giving the Owls a 25-24 victory. The Temple win snapped Villanova’s three-game winning streak over the Owls, and marked the first time since 1979 that Temple beat the Wildcats.
The strange thing is that no one knew what the final score actually was, because a Temple player intercepted an illegal forward pass that was returned for a touchdown. Many in the pressbox was wanting for a final score, but an illegal forward pass cannot be advanced. It didn’t matter. Temple won. Just that the final score was really 31-24, on Justin Gildea’s 26-yard fumble return that ended if–”officially.”
The the bottom line, however, is that the fans won, enjoying what was arguably one of the most exciting games ever played at the Linc.