During this trying season, Temple coach Matt Rhule has been repeating over and over to his players that they have to make things happen instead of letting things happen to them.
And on Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field, Rhule, who was hired in December, finally saw his team make things happen.
Losers of 11 of their last 12 games dating back to last season, Temple, which began the day as one of eight Football Bowl Subdivision teams still looking for its first win of the season, earned a convincing 33-14 victory over Army in front of a homecoming crowd of 25,533.
“I’m proud of our guys because they earned a win,” said Rhule, who downplayed his first career coaching victory. “They didn’t fall into it; they earned it. One win in the last 11 games, that’s tough. But whatever happened, bad or good, I have never felt like the guys weren’t giving effort. Today their effort was finally rewarded, and I’m happy for them.”
The Owls (1-6) led by 26-0 at halftime. That was more than their final total in all of the games they had played this season, with the exception of the 29 they scored in a loss to Fordham.
Freshman quarterback P.J. Walker completed 10 of 16 passes for 203 yards, a pair of touchdowns, and one interception. On Temple’s first two possessions of the game he led the Owls on scoring drives of 78 and 99 yards, respectively. The first ended on a 1-yard run by Kenny Harper that was set up on the previous play by a 45-yard pass to receiver Jalen Fitzpatrick.
Fitzpatrick, who had the most productive game of his career (four catches for 128 yards), hauled in a 37-yard touchdown on the following drive.
Walker threw one more touchdown, connecting with wide receiver John Christopher on a 39-yard score in the second quarter.
However, Rhule’s desire to see his team make things happen came to fruition on the Owls’ final touchdown of the half.
Nate D. Smith, who was switched back to linebacker to help the Owls defense slow an Army triple-option offense that had averaged a best-in-the-land 352.3 yards per game on the ground, scooped up a fumble by Black Knights backup quarterback Kelvin White and rambled 19 yards for a touchdown.
“It’s the first time our defense has scored this season, and it really felt good to contribute in that way,” Smith said. “We put together a good effort all the way across the board today, and it really feels good. We’ve been trying to put one together like this, from start to finish. So we just have to use this and build off of it.”
The biggest challenge for Temple against Army (3-5) was stopping the Knights’ running game, and the Owls did a good job, holding Army to 255 yards on 58 carries. The defense also got its first interception of the season when defensive back Tavon Young picked off White in the fourth quarter.
Linebacker Tyler Matakevich, who led the Owls with 13 tackles, snagged one as well.
“Our defense really stepped up and accepted the challenge,” Rhule said. “They knew they had to play tough against that running game, and they did. It was a good effort across the board.”