PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Temple began the first six weeks this season by beating Penn State for the first time since 1941, started a season 6-0 for the first time since 1974 and was ranked by the Associated Press for the first time since 1979. It’s been an improbable historic fairytale start for the Owls, who have become one of the best national stories of 2015.
The No. 22-ranked Owls suffered a mighty scare from East Carolina Thursday night on their way to a national TV date next Saturday with Notre Dame, but survived to beat the Pirates, 24-14, and continue this amazing journey by establishing another program benchmark by going 7-0 for the first time in Temple’s history.READ MORE: Garnet Valley Schools Superintendent Worries New Federal COVID-19 Testing Effort Could Disrupt Supplies
The winning difference was a P.J. Walker-to-Robby Anderson 23-yard touchdown pass with 3:31 left to play, topped by Jahad Thomas’ 14-yard TD. The Owls two late touchdowns came 73 seconds apart, after trailing 14-10.
Temple’s defense, which has only given up 29 second-half points in seven games, put the clamps down on the Pirates’ offense, holding them to 160 yards of total offense in the second half.
It didn’t help the Owls (7-0, 4-0 American Athletic Conference) to get flagged a season-high 12 times for 114 yards—something they obviously can’t get away with against the Fighting Irish.
Down 14-10, Tyler Matakevich’s fourth interception this season gave the Owls a chance to take the lead in the third quarter at the East Carolina 27. But the Owls hurt themselves with consecutive penalties, forcing Austin Jones into trying a 52-yard field goal attempt, which landed several yards short.
Temple went into halftime trailing, 14-10, after East Carolina tore through the Owls’ defense on a 13-play, 75-yard drive, which resulted in Blake Kemp’s 7-yard touchdown pass to Quay Johnson with :18 left in the half. It was Owls inability to get off the field that caused the problems. The Pirates converted a third-and-13 for 30 yards, and a fourth-and-10 at the Temple 37 that led to East Carolina’s 14-10 lead.READ MORE: Islanders Hand Flyers 8th Straight Loss
In the half, East Carolina converted a combined 7 of 12 third and fourth downs. Temple, meanwhile, was only able to muster 120 yards of total offense and were 2-for-6 on third-down conversations. Walker’s inaccuracy was a reason why the Owls were offensively inept, completing 6 of 11 in the half, for 74 yards. Kemp, however, riddled the Temple defense over the first two quarters, connecting on 13 of 19 for 116 yards and a touchdown.
“We overcame shooting ourselves in the foot, but I couldn’t be prouder of our team,” Temple coach Matt Rhule said. “We didn’t look like a very good football team at times tonight, but I couldn’t be prouder. For us to fight, hang in and come back, they showed a lot of heart and character. We just have to get better at some things.”
Like getting off the field on third down.
“We had to win third down, we were 5-for-10 on third downs in the first half and we’re one of the best teams in the country, yet we give up a third-and-13 we gave up, the other long one, if we won third down, we’d win the game, I thought,” Rhule said. “They played very good run defense and we had people wide open, and if caught a couple of deep balls, that changed everything.”
Thomas, who entered the game 13th in the nation in rushing with 756 yards on 145 carries, with 10 touchdowns, faced a stacked East Carolina front most of the night. He averaged 161.8 yards rushing a game, and entered the fourth quarter with just 50 yards. Thomas finished with 66 yards on 20 carries and two TDs. Walker was 19 of 35 for 250 yards, going 13-24 for 172 yards and a touchdown in the second half.MORE NEWS: 'This Turnout Is Amazing': Haddonfield Celebrates Martin Luther King Jr. Day
It all adds up to the unthinkable. Did you ever think you would see ESPN’s College GameDay come to Philadelphia, or Temple against Notre Dame on primetime TV on a Saturday night?