The Temple Owls (5-1, 2-0 The American) faced-off against the No. 23 Memphis Tigers (5-1, ) at Lincoln Financial Field Saturday afternoon in a conference game that had a lot riding on it.
The Owls were able to squeeze out a 30-28 win, spoiling the Tigers perfect season and potentially their top 25 ranking. It’s the second time this season the Owls have defeated a top 25 opponent, and it has left many wondering if the Owls deserve a spot in the top 25.
“To me, beating another ranked team doesn’t mean that much,” senior linebacker Shaun Bradley said. “Yeah it’s our second win over a ranked team, but it is what it is. We’re gonna keep going and keep pushing forward and doing what we need to do.”
The defense was able to contain the Tiger offense today, but still allowed freshman running back Kenneth Gainwell to rush for 107 yards and one touchdown. It was the offense that needed to step up today, specifically the passing game, and they did.
Redshirt junior quarterback Anthony Russo completed 61% of his passes for 224 yards and two touchdowns and connected with redshirt junior wide receiver Branden Mack who had 125 receiving yards and one touchdown.
“We like him as a matchup every week but this week we saw that the man covering him was a little smaller and we wanted to take advantage of that,” Russo said. “He’s 6’5”, so you can put the ball anywhere and he’ll get it. The thing that people don’t realize about him is because he’s so big, they only think he can run a certain amount of routes, but he runs everything in the book. He works relentlessly and it paid off today.”
Memphis was quiet in the first quarter while Mack and Russo led the offense downfield before redshirt senior running back Jager Gadner ultimately found paydirt for a one-yard touchdown run.
Redshirt sophomore kicker Will Mobley converted three field goals on the day all in the first and second quarter to push the Owl lead to 16-0. His third attempt was from 44-yards, which is a career long.
“Will’s a great guy. That’s the one thing that makes us a little different is that we’re not hoping for each other’s downfall,” graduate kicker Jacob LaFree said. “I want to be the best, but I also want Will to be the best. We both bought into lifting each other up when we miss. We sat down at the beginning of the season and said we don’t care who kicks, we just want to win games. I love that guy.”
Around the seven minute mark of the second quarter, the Tigers were finally able to get their offense going as they drive down the field in one minute and 16 seconds as redshirt junior wide receiver Damonte Coxie caught a 14-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Brady White.
After a few fumbles from both sides, the Owls took a 23-14 lead into the halftime break.
Freshman running back Ray Davis ran 54 yards to the endzone for a Temple touchdown, but a holding penalty brought the play back.
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Todd Centeio came into today’s game several times to give the Tiger defense a different look. He and Mack tried to complete the “Philly Special”, but Centeio fumbled and the Tigers recovered.
Later on the Tigers found their way back into the game by cutting the score to 30-28, with the Owls still holding the lead.
The call of the game came with just over a minute to go on fourth down for the Tigers. Brady evaded the pressure and threw a pass to redshirt senior tight end Joey Magnifico, who dove for the ball. He looked like caught the ball, but the referees overturned the play, giving the Owls the ball back.
“I was thinking ‘please god, don’t let this be a catch’ because I overthrew Isaiah [Wright] for a score earlier and didn’t want to put us in a tough situation,” Russo said. “Our defense came up huge though and made the stop.”
Chuck Sullivan, the assistant commissioner for communications from The American, gave pool reporter Marc Narducci from The Philadelphia Inquirer the following explanation on the decision to overturn the call.
“This falls in line of a judgment call, and we wouldn’t make the replay official available for that by conference policy,” Sullivan said. “The ruling was that the Memphis player didn’t have control of the ball as it hit the ground and that there was enough video evidence to confirm it.”
Memphis got the ball back with under a minute to go but couldn’t do anything with it, and the players rushed the field celebrating their upset win.
The Owl defense forced White into tough decisions all game, as he tallied one interception and a fumble. The Owls also forced two more fumbles, in turn getting the ball back into the hands of Russo and Mack.
“Forcing turnovers gives us a lot of momentum,” Bradley said. “It makes us want to go out there and do it again. It gives us a positive feeling that we know we’re doing good and can build off that.”
The Owls have a tough two-game stretch ahead of them. They’ll travel to take on another ranked conference opponent next weekend in the form of the No. 21 SMU. They’ll then come back home on Oct. 26 to play another ranked opponent, UCF.
“These next few games are super important,” Russo said. “We proved it again today that if we don’t hurt ourselves offensively and defensively, we can go up and down the field on teams. We just want to show that no one can stop us.”