The Temple football team capped the best regular season in school history with arguably its most complete performance of the year.
The 25th-ranked Owls held Connecticut to 138 yards of offense and dominated the Huskies on the way to a 27-3 victory that clinched the first-ever American Athletic Conference East Division title.
“It’s something special,” said senior defensive tackle Matt Ioannidis. “We go into every game thing its going to be a war. UConn’s offensive line is among the most physical in the conference along with ours. It was excecution, people being in their gaps, doing their jobs. Everyone played their 1/11th and it showed.”
The 10-2 Owls will travel to Houston to play the Cougars next Saturday for the American Athletic Conference championship. The winner will likely be on the way to a New Year’s Day bowl game.
“This is an amazing feeling,” said senior linebacker Tyler Matakevich, who led the way with 11 tackles. “I don’t think it has really hit me yet. Once you saw the trophy in your hands, there’s no greater feeling than that, but you can’t be satisfied yet. We didn’t work hard all year just to get there. We want to win.”
Jahad Thomas started the rout with a 9-yard TD run in the first quarter and capped it with a 60-yard score in the fourth quarter that made it a 27-0 lead. The junior finished with 119 yards on 20 carries.
Feeling the effects of a heavy workload for the first time in his Temple tenure, Thomas has been limited in practice and games lately. But he returned to practice this week and looked as fresh as he has been the whole second half of the season.
“It’s the healthiest I’ve been in a while, and I just felt great being able to practice and get those reps,” said Thomas. “I didn’t feel I was able to play as well the last few weeks. I’m not 100 percent, but I’m as healthy as I’ve been in about a month.”
The Temple defense was suffocating from the start and won the early battle of field position. Thomas punched it in on the second drive after the Owls started possession on the Huskie 49.
The Owls pushed the lead to 10-0 on Austin Jones’ 20-yard field goal midway through the second quarter.
The second half started out much like the first. UConn went three-and-out, and then the Owls grinded out a 13-play drive that culminated in another Jones field goal.
A TD pass to Romond Deloatch was called back after a lengthy review, so PJ Walker went to him again on the next play for a 4-yard score that put Temple up 20-0 with 41 seconds left in the third quarter,
Thomas’ fourth-quarter 60-yard TD run was the cap on the impressive performance. A 45-yard field goal with 5:51 to play was the Huskies’ only points.
“We held an opponent out of the end zone for the second straight week and were able to force seven three-and-outs,” said Temple coach Matt Rhule. “Offensively we were good on third and fourth down. I’m just really proud of our kids. As a team we talked about how perseverance conquers has been the story of our team the last three years.
“It’s really the motto of Temple University. We tried to be conservative tonight and play for field position. I thought everyone stepped up.”
Two years ago, the Owls blew a 21-0 halftime lead to Connecticut on Senior Night to fall to 1-10 on the season. On Saturday, they secured one of their most significant victories in program history, giving themselves a chance to win a conference title and play on New Year’s Day.
“We started saying at halftime we’re only up 10-0 and two years ago we were up 21-0,” said Matakevich. “We said ‘Just finish it.’ It’s awesome going out there and getting a ‘W’ like that.”