The Temple Owls had a glimmer hope down 24-13 late in the 4th quarter. Sitting at the Houston 33 yard line, the Owls were in a position to score and make it a one-possession game.
That opportunity slipped right through the fingers of P.J. Walker.
The junior quarterback fumbled consecutive snaps on 3rd and 4th down, and was unable to get to the first down. The miscues put the game away for Houston, as they came away with a 24-13 victory and the AAC Championship. Robby Anderson’s season high 12 catches and 150 yards were not enough to overcome a swarming Houston defense.
Temple was knocking on the door during their final drive. Jahad Thomas busted off a 19-yard rush, his longest of the game. Walker then delivered a perfect ball to Romond Deloatch, who made a 22-yard reception to pull the Owls inside the 35. However, poor clock management plagued the Owls. After an incompletion to Anderson, Deloatch made another reception that only went for two yards. Scrambling to get a play off, Walker let 20 seconds run off the clock before Matt Rhule had to take a timeout. The breather didn’t help the Owls, as Walker never got the opportunity to make another pass.
Down 24-10 going into the fourth quarter, the drive was one of Temple’s three late chances to pull closer to the Cougars. Just a couple minutes into the final frame, electing to go for it on 4th & 1, Walker found Thomas open in the flat for a crucial conversion. The drive stalled, but Austin Jones was able to nail his second field goal of the afternoon to make it 24-13.
The Owls did not find the same fate on the next position. Faced with another 4th down, this time a 4th & 3 on the Houston 38, Rhule kept the ball in Walker’s hands. However, he was unable to connect with Adonis Jennings, as his throw sailed behind him to negate yet another scoring opportunity. Temple then faltered with the two botched snaps on the next drive.
The Owls were unable to sustain many drives. They finished the day with an unimpressive 5/14 on 3rd down conversions.
The Owls got off to a poor start that put them in a hole right out of the gate. On Temple’s first drive, Elandon Roberts blew through the offensive line. With pressure in his face, Walker blindly tossed one up that was easily picked off by Houston’s Tyus Bowser. Given great field position, Houston capitalized. Greg Ward Jr,, who tore up the Owls on the ground, marched Houston 36 yards. Javin Webb punched it in from one yard out to stake the Cougars to any early 7-0 lead.
The Owls gave the ball away on their next possession as well. P.J. Walker had the Owls driving, completing four passes and moving Temple to the Houston 25. Walker hit Robby Anderson over the middle for a first down on his next throw, but a big hit jarred the ball loose. Houston’s Trevon Stewart recovered the fumble and Temple came up empty in the red zone.
Houston was able to put three points on the board at the start of the second quarter. On 4th & 1, Ward was able to use his speed to get to the outside and pick up 15 yards. The drive stalled, but Ty Cummings nailed a 24-yard field goal to make it 10-0.
The quarterback that was talked about all week showed off his play-making ability on the ground. Standing just past midfield, Ward took the keeper to the left side, hit the hole, and raced down the sideline untouched for a 47-yard touchdown to extend the lead to 17-0. It was Ward’s 18th rushing TD this year as well as his longest rush. Ward finished as the game’s leading rusher with 149 yards and two touchdowns. He also was 11/21 for 88 yards through the air, garnering the vote for the AAC Championship’s Most Outstanding Player.
The Temple defense, the AAC’s leading run stopper, was unable to contain Ward early. “He’s an athletic guy, he’s fast, he’s tough to defend,” said senior defensive lineman Matt Ioannidis, who finished with four tackles.
Ward kept pouring it on in the third. Starting at their own 29, Ward had rushes of nine and 25 yards to keep the drive moving. He then scampered into the end zone from 10 yards out for his second rushing touchdown of the day. The score put Houston in control, up 24-3.
Temple’s defense seemed deflated early by Houston’s fast paced offense. The Owls won the time of possession battle by almost seven minutes, but Ward kept hurrying the offense to line and snapping the ball quickly. This facilitated quick strikes by the Cougars.
Facing their largest deficit of the season, the Owls did not go away, as Walker and Anderson found a rhythm. They connected for gains of 22 and 11 as Temple marched down the field. Walker capped the drive by rolling out of the pocket and finding Anderson in the back of the end zone. After the early pick, Walker was able to bounce back. He completed 26 of 44 passes for 287 yards. “I let the pick go. I was just out there playing free,” Walker said after the game.
While Temple missed out on an opportunity to clinch a spot in a New Year’s Six Bowl, the Owls will still be playing one more game. Temple’s opponent and bowl game location has yet to be announced. However, players do not feel this was the end of the road. Walker, who is expected to return for his senior season, asserted, “We will be back in this game next year. That’s my mindset, that’s my mentality.”