OXFORD, Ohio – There was a lot of mystery surrounding who would start at quarterback for Temple in its road game against Miami (Ohio) this afternoon.
In the end, sophomore Chester Stewart got his second straight nod behind center, but the early surprise was who else was lined up in the Owls backfield.
Kee-ayre Griffin, a freshman cornerback, lined up at tailback for the first time this season and broke the Owls eight-quarter touchdown drought with a 25-yard TD run in the opening period to give Temple an early 7-0 lead.
The Owls never looked back from there.
Behind Griffin’s first career touchdown and Stewart’s three TD passes, Temple ended its four-game losing streak with a 28-10 win over Miami at Yager Stadium Saturday.
“It was big,” coach Al Golden said about the victory, the Owls (2-4, 1-2 in the Mid-American Conference) first since their season opener against Army on Aug. 29. “Guys know that the MAC East [Division] goes through Oxford. Irrespective of how team’s are playing, I think they understand the tradition of Miami University football. I think they understand that if you want to be a contender, you have to beat these guys.”
“We’ve won two on the road now, which is big for our program,” Golden continued. “The fact that we got our second win and we only lost [three] other ones by nine points … I think the guys know we could be 5-1. I think they know that. I don’t have to tell them that. I think they believe.”
Although he only practiced sparingly during the week because of a boot that was on his foot, Stewart gathered his first career win with an 11 for 23 passing performance that included three touchdown tosses against only one interception.
He threw for a total of 178-yards, including a 43-yard touchdown reception to senior wide reciever Bruce Francis which gave the Owls a 21-10 cushion with seven minutes, 57 seconds remaining in the game. Prior to that, he threw his first career touchdown pass, a two-yard toss, to junior tight end Steve Maneri with 9:49 left in the second quarter.
“My line told me before the game that they wouldn’t let anyone touch me and they did an outstanding job not letting anybody get to me,” said Stewart, who was only sacked once. “I was relaxed. I don’t think I was hurried all game.”
After building a 14-0 lead at intermission, Temple faltered when Miami (1-4, 0-1) replaced starting quarterback Daniel Raudabaugh with redshirt freshman Clay Belton at the start of the second half.
Belton guided the RedHawks to a field goal on his first drive. On his next possession under center, he handed the ball off to Thomas Merriweather six times until the sophomore running back finally broke through the heart of the Owls defense for a two-yard touchdown run with 2:27 left in the third quarter.
The momentum seemed to shift entirely to Miami when, on Temple’s next possession, Stewart was intercepted by senior strong safety Robbie Wilson, giving the RedHawks the ball at the Owls 39-yard line.
At Temple’s 33, the RedHawks decided to go for it on fourth-and-four, but, after catching a pass from Belton, junior tailback Andre Bratton was stopped short of the first down marker on an open field tackle by Temple junior linebacker Alex Joseph.
“I had my opportunity to make a play and I took advantage of it,” Joseph said.
The tackle wound up being huge for the Owls.
Midway through the fourth quarter, Temple took a 21-10 lead when, on a play action fake, Stewart unloaded a 43-yard touchdown strike to Francis.
“I just told Francis, ‘Go deep,'” Stewart said. “The safety got over top of it a little bit. I saw Bruce streaking down the sideline and I just threw it up and he made a good play for me.”
After junior defensive end Brian Sanford recovered a fumble at Miami’s six-yard line, the Owls got into the end zone again when Stewart hit Francis on a six-yard touchdown pass. The RedHawks turned the ball over four times, surrendering three fumbles and one interception.
Golden was impressed with how Stewart finished the game.
“I think he became a man in the fourth quarter,” the third-year coach said. “The game got really tight there and I kept saying to everyone on the sideline, ‘Enjoy the battle, enjoy the struggle,’ because that hasn’t been who we have been certainly our first 16 or 17 games when I got here. We’re starting to enjoy the battle a little bit more.
“There was a tendency when we were younger for guys to not want to step out there and make a play. To see Chester step up after he threw an interception and after things weren’t going well in the third quarter, was extraordinary.”
The Owls next battle will be on the road again, against Central Michigan next Saturday.
Injured quarterback Adam DiMichele, wearing his jersey and sweatpants, was on the field throwing the ball with Charlton and Stewart prior to the start of the game. He is the first injured player under coach Al Golden to receive an invitation to travel wit the Owls. The redshirt senior signal caller is expected to make his return from a shoulder injury as soon as Oct. 21, when the Owls host Ohio … Three starters did not travel with the team – sophomore wide receiver Michael Campbell, freshman left tackle Pat Boyle and sophomore defensive tackle Elisha Joseph. Golden said they were all injured … Junior linebacker John Haley and freshman defensive end Morkeith Brown both left the game with injuries … Senior defensive end Leyon Azubuike returned to the field for the first time this season after being hampered by an injury in the first five games.
Tyson McCloud can be reached at email@example.com.