Frank Nutile ran from the sideline and waited to high five his teammates as they came off the field.
The Owls had just kicked the extra point after Nutile’s fourth touchdown pass in the third quarter Thursday night against Navy. The redshirt-junior quarterback threw for 289 yards and four touchdowns in his second straight start, a 34-26 win at Lincoln Financial Field.
As it tries to become bowl eligible for the fourth consecutive season for the first time in program history, Temple earned a key win against a team that started the season with a 5-0 record and was ranked in the Week 7 Associated Press Top 25 poll.
“I’ve said all along, that even though in our close losses, we’re a really good football team,” coach Geoff Collins said. “And the things that we’ve learned with a young football team helped us propel tonight.”
The Owls (4-5, 2-3 American Athletic Conference) built an 18-point lead late in the third quarter and forced Navy to pass instead of running its triple-option attack.
Temple’s defense held Navy, which entered Thursday with most rushing yards per game in the Football Bowl Subdivision, to 136 yards on 52 carries.
Navy junior quarterback Zach Abey, who leads The American with 13 rushing touchdowns, finished with 60 yards on 25 carries. He left the game with an injury midway through the fourth quarter.
Nutile threw an interception with seven minutes, 28 seconds left in the fourth quarter when sophomore wide receiver Randle Jones tipped a pass and freshman cornerback Micah Farrar made a diving catch.
Junior quarterback Garret Lewis, who replaced Abey, threw a touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Brandon Colon four plays later.
Lewis then threw an 8-yard strike to senior wide receiver Tyler Carmona with 2:12 left. The extra point made it a one-possession game.
In their game against Army West Point on Oct. 21, the Owls allowed the Black Knights’ backup quarterback to orchestrate a two-minute drill drive to tie the game with one second left. Temple eventually lost in overtime.
The Owls didn’t want to repeat their last game. Redshirt-senior wideout Keith Kirkwood recovered Navy’s onside kick, and Temple ran out the clock.
“We weren’t going to let that happen again,” said redshirt-senior defensive lineman Sharif Finch, who had two of Temple’s five sacks.
Redshirt-sophomore quarterback Logan Marchi, who started the first seven games before only holding the ball for field goals and extra points on Oct. 21 against Army, is still too injured to play quarterback, coach Geoff Collins said on Tuesday. Marchi held the ball on special teams against Navy but did not take any offensive snaps.
Temple never trailed, and the team scored on all three of its first-half drives. Temple scored on its first six drives. Four of them ended with touchdowns.
The Owls traded field goals with Navy on the game’s first two possessions. Then Temple scored touchdowns on its next two drives.
Nutile threw a 40-yard touchdown pass to senior wideout Adonis Jennings for Temple’s first touchdown. Jennings beat senior cornerback Elijah Merchant in coverage on the play.
When Jennings transferred from the University of Pittsburgh after the 2014 season, he and Nutile often threw together because Jennings was new to the team and Nutile backed up former quarterback Phillip Walker, Nutile said.
Nutile threw his only touchdown pass against Army to Jennings. Much like after the game against Army, offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude said he has to review the game film and that Nutile hasn’t won the starting quarterback job.
Nutile has a 71.2 completion percentage in two starts.
“The thing about Frank is he’s just very consistent,” Patenaude said. “He studies very diligently. He knows where to go with the football. He plays with the calmness of an older player, and I’m not sure how much better he could have played.”
The Owls took advantage of the matchup between Jennings and Merchant throughout the game. Jennings, who has a five-inch height advantage over Merchant, made an adjustment on a back-shoulder throw on third-and-8 from Navy’s 34-yard line with less than two minutes left in the third quarter.
He caught Nutile’s throw for a 33-yard gain, and redshirt-sophomore tight end Jake Robinson caught his first-career touchdown two plays later.
Jennings became Temple’s first 100-yard receiver of the season, finishing with five catches for 127 yards and two scores.
“I think every week we’re in a corner’s head,” said Kirkwood, who had seven catches for 87 yards. “Me and Adonis like to have fun out there. We’re like brothers. We’re roommates and…I count on him just like he counts on me, and I know if he’s out there he’s going to make a play, vice versa. So I mean we’re a great dynamic duo and as soon as Ventell [Bryant] gets back out there, we’re going to be a big triple threat.”
Redshirt-junior wideout Ventell Bryant, last year’s leading receiver, hasn’t practiced in a week in a half, Collins said. He is still on the team, but has not practiced due to an issue being handled within the program, he said. Eight receivers caught passes Thursday, including redshirt-freshman wideout Branden Mack, who hauled in his second catch of the season.
Temple’s next game is against Cincinnati (2-6, 0-4 The American) on Friday at Nippert Stadium. The Bearcats have lost five in a row and are 111th in the FBS with 21 points per game.