PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) — Two fourth-down plays in a span of 75 seconds kept Temple from winning its first-ever American Athletic Conference game.
Rutgers made a big stop to get the ball back with 1:50 to play and Gary Nova threw a 33-yard game-winning touchdown to Leonte Carroo with 35 seconds left to give the Scarlet Knights a dramatic 23-20 victory Temple on Saturday.
“It’s very emotional because we knew we had this game in the bag,” true freshman quarterback P.J. Walker said after the Owls (1-8, 0-5) came up short for the second straight week. “At that point when it was fourth-and-1, we knew we had to get it down, but it didn’t happen. We just have to come out in practice and remember that fourth-and-1 every day. Winter time or spring, we have to remember that fourth-and-one no matter what.”
The Owls held a 20-16 edge when it came down to fourth-and-1 at the Rutgers 27. A first down and Temple would have been able to run out the clock since Rutgers did not have any timeouts. Running back Kenny Harper was stopped for a loss with 1:50 showing.
Both pivotal plays included blitzes by the defense. Harper had been successful running for the first down on another fourth-down play earlier in the quarter.
“We called the right play,” Harper said after being stopped by linebackers Kevin Snyder and Steve Longa. “They overloaded to one side. They just schemed a good blitz against us.”
The game winner for Rutgers came against a maximum blitz.
“It’s very frustrating,” said Temple defensive tackle Matt Ioannidis, who forced a fumble by Scarlet Knights running back Justin Goodwin at the 17 to set up the drive that almost won the game for the Owls. “We really came into this game ready to win. On fourth-and-10, that last play of the game, the defense just pinned their ears back and tried to get the quarterback. That’s the risk you take when you blitz.”
Temple coach Matt Rhule said all his team had to do to win was finish.
“At the end of the day, it came down to one play you have to make on fourth-and-1,” Rhule said. “The players understood that we had to have that half yard if we wanted to win. If we make that, the game is over and we run out the clock.”
Nova threw for 371 yards and three touchdowns, including the last two to Carroo as the Scarlet Knights (5-3, 2-2) ended a two-game losing streak. He did not throw an interception after having seven in the two losses.
Harper had put the Owls ahead 20-16 with a 25-yard run with 10:57 to play. Walker threw for 203 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions in his return to New Jersey.
Rutgers, which also got a 30-yard field goal from Kyle Federico, iced the game when converted receiver Ruhann Peele forced and recovered a fumble by Ryan Alderman in the closing seconds.
Nova, who had to beat out Chas Dodd to get the start this week, hit 27 of 38 attempts. His other TD to Carroo covered 34 yards, which came one play after Jamal Merrell intercepted a pass. Fullback Michael Burton caught a 4-yard TD early in the third quarter as the Scarlet Knights closed a 13-3 halftime deficit to 13-9 after missing the extra point.
Carroo finished with a career-best seven receptions for 147 yards.
After Carroo’s first touchdown gave Rutgers a 16-13 lead, Walker led Temple on a 62-yard drive that Harper capped with an untouched run into the end zone.
Rutgers had a chance to retake the lead when it moved to the Owls 17, but Goodwin fumbled and linebacker Blaze Caponegro recovered with 8:54 to go. The Owls then ran out most of the clock and would have won the game had not Snyder and Longa stopped Harper.
Walker’s touchdown passes covered 26 yards to Robby Anderson late in the first quarter and four yards to Harper just before halftime.
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