For the better part of this receding season, the Temple football team has talked about putting together a complete 60 minutes of football.
On Saturday, for 58 minutes at High Point Solutions Stadium, they came tantalizingly close to making this happen. Unfortunately for the Owls, offensive and defensive breakdowns in the last two minutes against Rutgers denied Temple its first American Athletic Conference victory
as the Scarlet Knights came from behind in the fourth quarter to win, 23-20.
“We wanted to be defined by who we were in the fourth quarter,” Temple coach Matt Rhule said after the latest loss dropped Temple to 1-8 overall and 0-5 in the conference. “And other than the last minute, we were a pretty good team in the fourth quarter.”
It all collapsed for the Owls at the end of a 14-play Temple drive that lasted more than seven minutes.
On the last play of that drive, on fourth and 1 at the Scarlet Knights 27, Rutgers (5-3, 2-2) stuffed running back Kenneth Harper at the line and drove him back to the 28, forcing a turnover on downs with 1 minute, 50 seconds to play.
“They overloaded, and one man came free,” said Harper, who caught a 4-yard touchdown pass and rushed for a 25-yard score with 10:57 left in the game that gave the Owls a 20-16 lead. “We’ve seen some good rushing defenses, and Rutgers is good against the run. They won there, and we had to win that one.”
With Rutgers trailing by four points, quarterback Gary Nova, who bounced back from a benching last week to complete 27 of 38 passes for 371 yards and three touchdowns on Saturday, completed four consecutive passes.
Two straight incomplete passes and a sack by Temple’s Nate D. Smith set up a fourth-and-15 play. It became fourth and 10 from the Temple 33 thanks to a delay-of-game penalty on Temple’s Sharif Finch.
The game was on the line when Nova, under an all-out blitz, found receiver Leonte Carroo (seven catches, 147 yards) behind defensive back Zamel Johnson for his second touchdown of the game with 35 seconds remaining.
The Owls’ final possession consisted of one pass play to Ryan Alderman that resulted in a lost fumble with 21 seconds to go.
“We weren’t able to put it away on fourth down. We put it back in their hands, and they found a way to win the game,” Rhule said. “We’ll learn from this. But at the same time, we have to get that half a yard if we want to win.”
Linebacker Tyler Matakevich, who led the Owls with 10 tackles and sacked Nova for a 9-yard loss, said the Owls defense had hoped it would not have to go back on the field down the stretch.
However, he did not point the finger at any of his teammates.
“It hurts because we are playing so hard and trying so hard to win these games,” Matakevich said. “We’re a family, so we all lost together. The key for us is to come back and be ready to play [Central Florida] in two weeks.”