Wet And Wild

Temple forced five turnovers and earned its first victory over a ranked team since 1998 – and quite possibly launched itself back into the AAC title race – with a 20-10 knockout of No. 21 East Carolina at rain-soaked Lincoln Financial Field on Saturday afternoon.

Temple forced five turnovers and earned its first victory over a ranked team since 1998 – and quite possibly launched itself back into the AAC title race – with a 20-10 knockout of No. 21 East Carolina at rain-soaked Lincoln Financial Field on Saturday afternoon.

The Owls put the clamps on a Pirate offense that came in averaging 39.6 points per game, and junior cornerback Tavon Young returned a first quarter fumble for a touchdown – his second TD this season.

Temple managed just 135 yards of offense, mostly due to the weather conditions and a very conservative gameplan. But that was the roadmap to victory for Coach Matt Rhule’s squad, which didn’t commit a single turnover. (They committed four turnovers each in previous losses at Houston and Central Florida.)

Rhule said the weather forecast was a huge factor in this week’s game preparations going all the way back to Tuesday.

“We just decided we were going to try to play good defense and special teams, and run the ball,” Rhule said.

Things went exactly to plan in the first quarter, as ECU tailback Breon Allen lost two fumbles in the driving rain. The first was forced by Temple defensive end Praise Martin-Oguike, and looked to be recovered by Jihaad Pretlow.

“I was actually cheering, jumping up in the air,” Young said.

Then the ball squirted away from Pretlow, and suddenly it was right there for Young, who stopped cheering long enough to pick it up and run 63 yards for a score.

Two minutes later, Nate D. Smith stripped the ball from Allen, and Will Hayes was there for the recovery at the ECU 40.

The Owls moved into scoring position on P.J. Walker’s 22-yard toss to tight end Colin Thompson, and Kenneth Harper finished the drive with a one-yard TD run.

Playing with a 14-0 lead, Rhule was able to stay with the gameplan, and Walker didn’t take any chances.

“It was just about being smart with the football,” said Walker, who had totaled five interceptions the previous two weeks. “I just took what the defense gave me, and when nothing was there I threw it away.”

On one occasion, under heavy pressure, Walker raced to his left and threw the ball away left-handed – the first (and probably last) left-handed pass of his college career.

He finished 7 for 19 for 70 yards – numbers that were good enough for a victory.

The Pirates managed a 39-yard field goal midway through the second quarter, but the Owls really took control after Warren Harvey’s second field goal attempt – a 41-yarder early in the third quarter – was blocked by Martin-Oguike.

Temple followed with a 12-play, 76-yard drive that Harper completed with a two-yard TD run. The drive was extended when ECU was called for pass interference and unsportsmanlike conduct on the same play.

The Pirates were penalized 12 times for 120 yards in the contest. They also had a botched punt attempt thanks to a bad snap in the first half.

The rain subsided in the second half, however.

Yet the Temple defense was still very tough on ECU quarterback Shane Carden, who finished 24 for 41 for 217 yards, and was sacked four times.

The Pirates finally managed a touchdown with a little more than two minutes to go.

Martin-Oguike finished with 3.5 tackles for losses, including 1.5 sacks. Matt Ioannidis had 2.5 tackles for losses and 1.5 sacks. Tyler Matakevich had 16 tackles and two pass breakups, and Sean Chandler had 13 tackles and a pass breakup.

Free safety Alex Wells (10 tackles) had the biggest pass breakup, though, which came midway through the fourth quarter when the Pirates tried a double pass on which wideout Cam Worthy appeared wide open for a split second. But Wells saw wide receiver Justin Hardy looking to throw the ball, and closed the distance to knock it away from Worthy.

“I saw [Worthy] running down the sideline and I just ran as fast as I could,” Wells said. “When the ball is in the air, either you’ve got to make a play or he’s got to make a play. And Coach Rhule didn’t bring me here to let him make a play.”

The win was Temple’s first over a ranked opponent since beating No. 14 Virginia Tech on the road in 1998.

More importantly, though, the Owls improved to 5-3 overall, and 3-2 in AAC play. ECU dropped to 6-2, 3-1 in league play.

With UConn’s upset of Central Florida on Saturday, there are no undefeated teams in the American. ECU, Central Florida, Cincinnati, Houston, and Memphis each have one loss.

With one more win, Temple will be bowl-eligible. Next on the schedule is a Friday night home game against Memphis (5-3, 3-1), another team that was expected to finish in the middle of the pack – but at this point is right there in the AAC title race.

Is Temple in the race, too?

“If we win that game (against Memphis),” Rhule said. “Maybe we’ll start thinking about those things.”

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