Perhaps the only similarity between Temple’s 2014 and 2015 matchups with Penn State was the half time score. Last year, the Owls went into the locker room down 6-3. On Saturday, they also made their way off the field down by three points, as Penn State led 10-7. From there on out, the games were two entirely different stories. Putting last year’s 30-13 loss behind them, the Owls made an emphatic statement at Lincoln Financial Field, scoring 27 unanswered on their way to a statement victory, 27-10. It was the first Temple win against Penn State since 1941, and snapped a 39 game losing streak.
Penn State struck early, scoring on their fist two possessions. After a Julius Joey field goal, Akeel Lynch broke free for a 42 yard touchdown run that staked the Nittany Lions to a 10-0 lead. Lynch finished with 78 yards on the day. After that, the Temple defense locked down, not giving up an inch the remaining three quarters. Tyler Matakevich led the charge, racking up 7 tackles and a career high 3 sacks. Nate Smith also added two QB takedowns.
Finally, with 9:05 left in the 2nd, the Temple offense kicked into gear. Starting from their own 7, P.J Walker was not fazed. He connected twice for gains of 25 and 16, and Jahad Thomas later broke free for a 31 yard scramble to set Temple up at the PSU 2 yard line. The 93-yard drive was capped off by a 1 yard run by Thomas, putting the Owls on the board and making it 10-7. The teams would head into the break with that score.
Temple employed a little trickery on their way to tying the game in the 3rd quarter. Sitting at the 44-yard line, Walker handed the ball off in the shotgun to Thomas, who flipped it to wide receiver John Christopher coming around the back. The reverse worked to perfection, as Christopher delivered a perfect pass to a streaking Walker for a 25-yard gain. The drive later stalled, but Austin Jones booted home 40 yard field goal that knotted the game at 10.
With game deadlocked in a defensive battle, Junior defensive lineman Sharif Finch made the play the swung the game in the Owls’ favor. Penn State sat at their own 28, looking to drive down the field for the lead. Reading it the whole way, Finch stepped in front of Christian Hackenberg’s throw and took off down sideline, running it back all the way to the 2 yard line. Walker took it in on a QB keeper from 1 yard out to give Temple a 17-10 lead.
Temple left no room for doubt in the 4th quarter. PSU’s first drive of the 4th ended in a sack of Hackenberg, one of the 10 he took on the day from a swarming Temple defense. Back on offense, the Cherry and White kept rolling. Jahad Thomas took the handoff from the PSU 24, burst through a hole in the middle, made two Penn State defenders miss, and was gone up the sideline for his second touchdown of the day, widening the margin to 24-10. Thomas, the game’s leading rusher, finished with 135 yards on the ground. After another PSU drive that went nowhere, Temple took over again looking to put the game away. After a nice kick return by Sean Chandler set the Owls up in PSU territory, Austin Jones tacked on another three points, this time from 30 yards out, to push the lead to 27-10.
With 5:41 left, the outcome was more or less certain. The teams exchanged drives, but the deafening crowd of 69, 176, the largest home attendance in Temple history, was already well on their way to celebration. After another sack allowed the clock to bleed to double zeros, Temple players stormed onto the field in jubilation. All the talk of the Owls constantly faltering against Penn State vanished out the window.
It was an emphatic, all around victory for the Owls. The defense lived up to their expectations, allowing only 180 yards of offense and getting Hackenberg to the ground all day. Penn State was only able to muster two 3rd down conversions all day. After early jitters, they forced Penn State to punt on 7 straight possessions. P.J Walker showed poise and grit all day. He was smart with the ball, finishing 15-20 for 143 yards, his only turnover coming on an early fumble. Aside from Walker, 8 Temple wideouts finished with at least one reception.
After the game, head coach Matt Rhule and players stuck to a common theme: Enjoy it, and it’s on to Cincinnati. The Owls will take on the Bearcats in Ohio next week at 8:00. But after an emotional win that carried such magnitude, it speaks volumes about this year’s Temple squad. They don’t want to be the team known for one big win. They want to be the one known for many. And that starts with a pivotal conference game next week.