Knights Crush Temple’s Championship Hopes

The Temple Owls came into Saturday night’s matchup against the UCF Knights with conference championship implications on the line. With a win, they’d virtually knock UCF out of the conference championship conversation.

Yet the opposite happened, and the Knight offense that came in averaging 43.8 points/game handed the Owls a big 63-21 defeat.

“I don’t know if we lost today’s game or UCF beat us,” said coach Rod Carey. “We were just bad in all three areas of the game.”

The Owls went into the second half down just 28-21, but didn’t manage to score a point in the second half. The Knights put up an additional 35 points in the second half. Redshirt junior center Matt Hennessy also didn’t play Saturday night due to a concussion. Hennessy was just named a midseason All-American by Pro Football Focus. 

“One touchdown game at halftime,” redshirt junior quarterback Anthony Russo said. “We gotta come out in the second half and do better. The defense did exactly what they needed to do and got a three-and-out. Offense has gotta go down there and get a field goal or touchdown. As a team we gotta sit down and figure out when things get bad and then get worse, how we’re going to regroup and turn things around.”

On just the second play of the game, Russo connected with senior wide receiver Isaiah Wright for a 25-yard gain to the Knights 45-yard-line. 

It looked like a good sign for the day for Wright, who had just three receptions for 19 yards and had multiple dropped passes in last week’s loss at SMU. 

At the 11-minute mark of the first quarter, Russo hit senior wide receiver Randle Jones downfield for a 32-yard touchdown reception. Redshirt sophomore kicker Will Mobley converted the extra point and the Owls had an early 7-0 lead. 

The Knights came back fast though, as they drove down the field in just one minute and 31 seconds to tie the game up at 7-7. Freshman quarterback Dillon Gabriel connected with redshirt junior tight end Jake Hescock from 20 yards out for the score. 

With about three minutes left in the first quarter, senior running back Adrian Killins Jr. broke out for 48 yards and found the endzone. It was the Knights first play on that drive, and they took a 14-7 lead into the second quarter. 

The Owls took the ball to midfield with their first drive of the second quarter, but ended up punting it away. The Knights once again drove downfield in under two minutes to extend their lead to 21-7. 

Junior running back/wide receiver Otis Anderson rushed for 54 yards into Owl territory, and then Gabriel connected with wide receiver Gabriel Davis to get inside the redzone. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Darriel Mack Jr. then ran in for a six-yard touchdown. 

Russo and redshirt junior wide receiver Branden Mack connected on a 75-yard touchdown reception with just under seven minutes left in the half. The touchdown gave Mack his fourth 100-yard receiving game of the year, tying a single-season school record.

The Knights responded when Gabriel hit redshirt junior wide receiver Tre Nixon on a 28-yard touchdown reception on fourth down. When the Owls could’ve forced a turnover on downs, they were instead down 28-14.

Senior running back ran in a touchdown from one yard out right before halftime to cut the lead to 28-21 in favor of the Knights.  

The third quarter was not kind to the Owls to say the least. 

After the Knights went three-and-out on their first drive of the second quarter, they ran all over the Owls. 

Junior wide receiver Marlon Williams broke a tackle at midfield and went 73 yards into the endzone to extend the lead to 34-21. 

Then Thompson had a 34-yard touchdown run, Anderson had a 47-yard touchdown run, and Thompson had another touchdown run, this time for 11 yards. 

The up-tempo offense that the Knights played with gave the Owls fits.

“Their offense gave us a lot of problems,” Carey said. “Obviously when you get stops, like we did sometimes, that offense doesn’t work. But we didn’t get stops and paid for it.” 

Russo had gone three games without a turnover, but threw two interceptions in the last five minutes of the third quarter. 

At the end of the third, the Knights led 56-21. 

“I don’t want to point the finger at anybody,” said graduate linebacker Chapelle Russell. “As a defense we just have to play better.” 

To add insult to injury, the Knights converted a field goal to extend the score to 59-21 early in the fourth quarter, but a roughing the kicker penalty was called. 

The Knights offense came back on the field, and three plays later scored and were now up 63-21. 

When the final whistle blew, the Owls had taken the loss 63-21. With the loss, they have a tough road in order to compete for the conference championship game.

“We’re beat up,” Russo said. “We have a lot of guys that need rest and need to recover and get their bodies back to where they need to be. All we know here at temple is when things go bad is to just work harder. We’re going to recoup as a team. We’re not going to point fingers, and we’re going to figure out what we need to do better as a team in all three areas in order to get a win.” 

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