It had been 74 years since the Temple University football team beat Penn State.
It had been 14 years since the football program was booted out of the Big East, putting the program’s very existence in jeopardy.
It was 10 years since Al Golden arrived at Temple to start the rebuild almost from the ground up.
It was two years ago Temple was 2-10 in coach Matt Rhule’s first season, one that included a number of painful late-game losses.
All of which made Saturday’s 27-10 season-opening victory over Penn State at Lincoln Field such a significant, program-turning win for Temple.
The Owls picked up arguably the biggest win in their history by beating the Nittany Lions. The first bowl appearance in 30 years in 2009 and New Mexico Bowl victory in 2011 were important, but topping a fellow Pennsylvania program that has overshadowed it for years really put a rising Owls program on the map.
And perhaps even more important was how the win was achieved, with a dominating 10 sacks against the Nittany Lions and their highly-regarded quarterback Christian Hackenberg in front of 69,000 fans.
Rhule and the players tried to downplay the victory to a degree. They have a significant conference game against Cincinnati next Saturday night, but no doubt the dominating performance was a significant win.
“For our fans, this is very important,” said Rhule. “I am so thrilled for (former) coach (Wayne) Hardin, guys that played for us and it’s awesome for the university and the program, and I thought our fans were awesome.
“To see all the cherry and white, it was a big game day atmosphere. This is huge for the program. I am going to get set on the recruiting tonight and say look what we are doing. The only way it is bad is if we come out slow next week. That is a true test of what kind of team we are, how we respond next week.”
Linebacker Tyler Matakevich led the way with three sacks and defensive end Nate D. Smith had two.
After giving up the first 10 points, Temple answered with the final 27, taking the lead for good late in the third quarter after Sharif Finch picked off Hackenberg at the Nittany Lion 28 and returned the interception to the 2-yard line.
Quarterback P.J. Walker’s 1-yard touchdown run two plays later gave the Owls their first lead at 17-10 with one minute left in the third quarter and they never looked back.
A team that has often struggled to finish games the last two years padded the lead with 10 fourth-quarter points, while the Nittany Lions simply struggled to keep Hackenberg upright. Hackenberg was just 11-of-25 for 103 yards.
Jahad Thomas scored on a 24-yard run with 11:14 to go and Austin Jones’ 30-yard field goal with 5:41 left sealed the deal.
“(Hackenberg) was out of it by the third quarter,” said middle linebacker Jarred Alwan, who posted the first sack of Hackenberg. “He didn’t want to play any more. Our motto is ‘What’s next?’ We kept playing, next play, next play.”
Thomas, a 5-foot-10, 180-pound junior, carried 29 times for 135 yards and two touchdowns. Walker was 15-for-20 for 143 yards, spreading the ball around to nine different receivers.
“We were able to run the ball, which takes a lot of pressure off (Walker),” said Thomas. “When we are able to run the ball, it helps him and the passing game that much more. It’s nice when we get to turn around and hand the ball off and we are able to get a big gain or first down.”
The Temple offense struggled early, failing to convert a first down on its first three drives. Penn State kicked a field goal on the opening drive and scored a touchdown on the second as Akeel Lynch’s 42-yard run off left tackle made it 10-0 nine minutes into the game.
But the Owls put together a 12-play, 93-yard drive, capping it with 1-yard TD run by Thomas on third-and-goal with two minutes left in the half. Thomas snagged a pitch a little behind him and walked into the end zone.
Sophomore Austin Jones tied the game in the third quarter with a 40-yard field goal, an encouraging sign considering the struggles of the Temple kicking game the past few seasons.
But the Owls showed this isn’t the team of the last few years – or even the team of the last 74.
“I said it last year, we were a good team and we were just coming up short,” said Matakevich. “We’re the same kids, just bigger, smarter and faster and it’s starting to pay off. To beat a team like Penn State, people are going to start talking but we just have to block that out.
“We just have to keep pushing. We’re hungry. But we’re definitely going to enjoy this. We deserve this."
History: Temple throttles Penn State, 27-10
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