Temple football coach Bobby Wallace truly believed that this year’s squad, rich in veteran talent, was on the cusp of earning bowl eligibility. The fact of the matter is, in order to be a bowl team it helps to beat one or two.
The Owls concluded their season with an anticlimactic 36-14 loss to the Boston College Eagles at Veterans Stadium on Saturday. Though the Owls were in all but two games they played this year, they faced six bowl potential teams this year and went winless against all of them.
The Owls struggled all afternoon with an ineffective passing game that produced three interceptions and saw their running game limited to just 56 yards on 31 carries. They also failed to capitalize on nine penalties made by the Eagles in the first half alone.
Temple trailed 17-7 at the half, and injuries to running back Tanardo Sharps and center Donny Klein, plus a complete lack of cadence from the spread offense rendered the game a formality.
Once again the onus was on the Owls defense, ranked 22nd in the nation, and was constantly forced to defend a short field.
The Eagles exploited the Owls’ soft man-to-man coverage, while using an efficient running attack led by Derrick Knight’s 73 yards and Brandon Brokaw’s three touchdowns. The Eagles opened the game up in the third quarter with a pair of field goals off of two weak Garb Ringwelski punts and a touchdown two plays after an interception.
The Owls season finale was also the last game for the 22 seniors on the team, who were Wallace’s first recruiting class. To Wallace, this game was special and to see his seniors conclude their careers with a dispirited loss made it difficult to accept.
“I don’t know whether I’m more hurt to lose the game or more hurt to see the seniors leave,” Wallace said. “And we saw two of them leave too soon.”
Klein went down with a knee sprain and Sharps a deep thigh bruise, preventing either from returning to the game. A somber Wallace admitted that he only spoke with the team briefly after the game because he was fighting back tears. Nevertheless, Wallace remained adamant about this football program, despite their tepid performance in front of a season-low 14,278 in attendance.
“It seems like we make a big step, we get knocked down and back another step,” Wallace said. “It’s been kind of a roller coaster, up and down, up and down, and we just got to keep fighting.”
The Owls’ secondary and offensive line consisted of a wealth of talent and experience, and will lose four players from each position. Klein and Dave Yovanovits have started on the offensive line since arriving here. Their play has been instrumental, as they were near the top of the conference in sacks allowed and never got enough credit for aiding Sharps as the school’s second all-time leading rusher.
“The coaches put us in great position to play games, we just got to grab the opportunity when it comes and that’s what we’re still missing right now,” Yovanovits said.
The secondary of Jamal Wallace, Lafton Thompson, and Terrance Leftwich, played consistently all four years, as well as senior safety Jairo Almonte was with them for three.
“I love these guys. Before the game it was very emotional,” Almonte said. “We were very close, like a family, and the guys in the secondary were my immediate family.”
During the player introductions for the seniors, Almonte greeted each one at the end of the line. He said after the seniors were honored, players broke down in tears, as did Wallace.
“He was really attached to us,” Almonte said.
Senior wide receiver Sean Dillard hauled in five catches for 48 yards and moved into first place as the Owls all-time leader in receptions, with a career total of 130. More impressive are Dillard’s prolific numbers, despite battling constant injuries, who earned a scholarship as a walk-on.
“Wallace took me under his wing,” Dillard said. “I guess he saw something in me that other schools didn’t and he gave me the opportunity.
“Being involved in this program has been a life experience that I’ll never forget.”
During his post-game press conference Wallace made a point to show his appreciation for top seniors that have enabled the Owls to escape the depths of the Big East cellar and put together three consecutive four win seasons.
“It’s hard for me to talk to them now,” said Wallace, referring to the seniors. “They’ve done a lot for this program.”
Jason Haslam can be reached at Jasonhaslam@yahoo.com