Weekend at Bernie's

Bernard Pierce staked the Owls to an early lead last year at Penn State before he left the field with an injury and the Nittany Lions rallied for a 22-13 victory. Now a healthy Pierce and the Owls host Penn State Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field as they try to finish the job.

The last four games between Temple and Penn State had concluded without an Owls touchdown, so it was a significant milestone when Bernard Pierce went in from five yards out to give Temple a 7-3 first-quarter lead last year.

The next Owls touchdown came later in the quarter, again from Pierce, as Temple grabbed a 13-6 edge.

But after gaining 42 yards and scoring twice on 10 carries, Pierce left the game with an ankle injury and didn't return. The Owls' offense never came back either, sputtering as Penn State went ahead in the third quarter on the way to a 22-13 victory.

"In reality we had them beat last year," said Temple athletic director Bill Bradshaw in a June interview. "Bernard Pierce goes down with a lot of time left. … I bring that up not because Bernard Pierce would have run for three more touchdowns, he would have run for three more first downs that would have allowed us field position and allowed us to take some time off the clock."

There haven't been many nailbiters in the Temple-Penn State series which has seen 28 straight wins by the Nittany Lions. Red zone inefficiency and missed field goals cost the Owls a chance for a win in Happy Valley in 2003 when they suffered a 23-10 defeat, and fumbled snaps and missed field goals kept Temple from winning in 1991 when Penn State pulled away late for a 24-7 victory at Veterans Stadium.

But last year's battle was one of the closest in recent memory and gives Temple a reason to believe it can beat the Nittany Lions when they visit Lincoln Financial Field Saturday.

"Going into the game last year, we knew it was going to be a hard-fought game and they were going to come at us, trying to run the ball," recalled Temple linebacker Tahir Whitehead. "They ran the ball, we made stops, they made plays. We ended up with the loss, but as the game progressed we felt we were going to be able to take them to the very last tick on the clock."

If Pierce had been able to finish the game, would the result have been different?

"It's hard to say, it could have been the same result, it could have went differently, you never know," said Whitehead.

The Owls are hoping to find out Saturday. Pierce is off to a tremendous start with 297 yards and six touchdowns in decisive wins over Villanova and Akron, and the Owls will need him to be the difference-maker for four quarters against the Nittany Lions.

"He's going to have to have a big game, he's going to have to go the distance, show what he's got," said quarterback Mike Gerardi. "I think he will, I know he will. He's a different player this year, different mindset running the ball. He's so much more mature now knowing he's the guy. He's got the toughness. I'm excited to see him play.

"Last year we felt we could beat them and this year it's the same mentality, but it's at our home field now. Maybe that can give us some edge, some energy."

After playing the Nittany Lions tough for four quarters last year, the Owls weren't satisfied. The what-might-have-been of Pierce's departure still lingers.

"We know what we did last year wasn't enough," said Whitehead. "We are no longer trying to compete with Penn State, we're trying to take it the distance now."

If Pierce goes the distance, so can the Owls.

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