PHILADELPHIA (CBS)—Bernard Pierce had been waiting two years for this. As a freshman, Temple’s stellar running back didn’t get the ball as much as he wanted when the Owls hosted local rival Villanova in the Mayor’s Cup. Last year, he had the looming specter of Heisman hype shadowing him, with the feeling he was lugging expectations on his shoulders with each touch.
The 6-foot, 218-pound junior has something to prove this year. He had a miserable sophomore year, plagued by injuries, and wanted to show his teammates—and NFL scouts—he’s durable. It’s no wonder he exploded all over Villanova.
Sure, the wait was long, but worth it. Pierce gave Owls’ first-year coach Steve Addazio a neatly wrapped first victory Thursday night, rushing for 147 yards and tying a career high with three touchdowns in Temple’s dominating 42-7 victory over Villanova before a good crowd of 32,638 at Lincoln Financial Field.
Temple holds a 2-1 lead in the brief Mayor’s Cup series, but this was the largest point difference after what were two very competitive games the previous two times these area programs met for the Mayor’s Cup.
It was a completely one-sided affair, as the Owls came out with a balanced attack of 475 yards of total offense, with 240 on the ground and 235 through the air.
“We wanted to play hard, that’s what we wanted to do,” Addazio said. “There was a major college football culture here and it was great to see in Philadelphia. We played a great program in Villanova, on a great night for Philadelphia, and a great night for Temple. We wanted to be able to get some momentum early and get the run game working.”
Temple had the game won by halftime, up 21-0. By then, Pierce had rushed for 116 yards on 15 carries, including touchdown scores of 19 and 22. He looked ram tough, plowing through young Villanova defense, and when he was able to reach the edge, he was able to use his considerable speed to break free of Wildcat defenders.
For Addazio, it couldn’t have been a better start. The Owls’ defense was bowed a few times in the first half, when the game was still competitive, but it didn’t crack. Villanova’s first series brought the ball to the Temple 30, before linebacker Tahir Whitehead’s sack and an interception quelled the threat.
A little Villanova razzle-dazzle, on a double-reverse pass from Dorian Wells to Dustin Thomas, resulted in a 44-yard gain, bringing the ball to the Temple 25. But a Thomas fumble (recovered by Whitehead, who was all over the field defensively with four tackles, three for losses) at the Owls’ 38 changed all of that.
The turnover led to Pierce’s first touchdown, a 19-yard run. The score gave Temple a 14-0 lead, which was ballooned to 21-0 when Pierce took a handoff and bolted to the outside for a 22-yard scoring run. Addazio has seen his share of terrific running backs coming from the Southeastern Conference at Florida, where he was the offensive coordinator, before taking over at Temple for the departed Al Golden.
“I’ve said it, and I’ll tell you again, I think [Pierce] is as talented as the backs I’ve seen in any of the other conferences I’ve been in,” Addazio said. “The last stop I was at was a tremendous conference, and he’s got all of that talent. Why? He’s big, he’s got size, speed, and he makes you miss, he has those qualities. Like we said, Bernard’s been working real hard at being able to play through these physical games, and finish and work through injuries. I was real proud of him, he ran real hard, he was driving and spinning and working for extra yards. He was tight with the ball and I thought he did a great job and he is absolutely one of the top running backs in the country.”
Owls’ quarterback Mike Gerardi was very impressive. He threw an accurate ball, completing 14-for-20 passes for 235 yards and two touchdowns, a 35-yard strike to Deon Miller in the first quarter and a 47-yard TD connection to Rod Streater that gave the Owls a 28-0 early in the third quarter.
It has to be noted that Villanova played 17 first-year players, 12 true freshmen and five red-shirt freshmen, including Thomas, red-shirt freshman, and two on defense. Sometimes, that inexperience showed. The Wildcats turned the ball over four times, three interceptions and a fumble. At times, the Owls manhandled Villanova, pushing the Wildcats around in making room for Pierce.
Reported by: Joseph Santoliquito