By Joseph Santoliquito
PHILADELPHIA, PA (CBS) — Temple alums were hoping to see it once before they died. And it was bound to happen one of these years. It just seemed like a lifetime to reach, maybe a few lifetimes, when Temple would ever beat Penn State.
But the Owls pulled off a historical shocker on Saturday with a 27-10 victory over Penn State, snapping a 39-game winless streak and beating the Nittany Lions for the first time since Oct. 18, 1941 before a record crowd of 69,176 at Lincoln Financial Field.
Temple answered an early 10-0 deficit with 27 unanswered points, snapping the 0-38-1 streak against Penn State that had built since Oct. 18, 1941, when the Owls beat the Nits, 14-0, in Philadelphia.
“To think we were down 10-0, it looked like it would go one way,” Owls’ coach Matt Rhule said. “Not just that we came back, but there was no finger-pointing and we just kept fighting and fighting. I’m really proud of them and really proud that they didn’t celebrate until the game was over. They didn’t like it was that they didn’t expect to win. I glad for the seniors that they had a win in a game of this magnitude. Hopefully we don’t think this is the highlight of our season. The reason why we won is we focused on ourselves. This was about Temple, not Penn State, no disrespect meant to Penn State.
“Once we got locked in, we settled down. We wanted to be more physical than last year. Eventually, we started shutting down the run.”
Temple’s defense was the star of the game, sacking Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg 10 times for minus-64 yards. Penn State leads the series, 4-39-1, and it looked like the Nits would wipe up Temple by getting off to a 10-0 start. After the Lions scored on their first two possessions, pounding out 128 yards of total offense, they gained just 52 yards of offense the rest of the game. Penn State went three-and-out on eight on its next 12 possessions.
The Owls’ defense had rendered Penn State’s attack one-dimensional, as Hackenberg ducked and ran for his life the rest of the afternoon.
Temple tailback Jahad Thomas rushed for a game-high 135 yards on 29 carries, including two touchdowns. Defensively, linebacker Tyler Matakevich had three sacks to lead the Owls. Nate D. Smith and Matt Ioannidis each had two sacks, and defensive end Sharif Finch may have made the play of the game with an interception and 26-yard return that led to quarterback P.J. Walker’s 1-yard go-ahead touchdown with 1:00 left in the third quarter.
Afterward, many Penn State fans left very disgruntled, mumbling how second-year head coach James Franklin was a great recruiter but a terrible strategist.
“We have to give Temple and Coach Rhule credit, they played extremely well and dominated up front on each side of the ball,” Franklin said. “The sacks are an issue. We didn’t punt the ball well. It’s been a problem the last two years. We have a lot of work to do. We’ll practice tomorrow. We’ll watch the film and be very, very honest with ourselves, including myself. We’ll look in the mirror and be very critical in areas we need to fix and get better.”
Scouts from the Indianapolis Colts, Miami Dolphins, Washington Redskins and Tennessee Titans were in the press box, no doubt looking at Hackenberg, who was 11-for-25, for 103 yards and projected by some to be a first-round draft pick. But Hackenberg looked skittish in the pocket, and the times he was able to get the ball down field, his passes were either overthrown or skidded off the turf.
Temple, meanwhile, exorcised a long-haunting demon. And the Owls, who will be on national TV again next week at Cincinnati, have the makings of being an 8 or 9-win team.
However this season turns out, this version of the Owls can always savor beating a cross-state rival for the first time in 74 years.