WEST POINT, N.Y. – Coach Al Golden said last week that the football team could not afford to lose twice because of its loss to Penn State.Thanks to sophomore running back Matt Brown, the Owls avoided doing so, but just barely.
Starting in place of injured sophomore running back Bernard Pierce, Brown set career-highs in rushing yards, attempts and touchdowns to help defeat the Black Knights, 42-35. The Baltimore native finished the game with 226 yards rushing and four touchdowns on 28 carries.
Fresh off the 22-13 loss to the Nittany Lions, the Cherry and White started Saturday’s game against the Black Knights on the wrong note when junior cornerback James Nixon fumbled the ball during the opening kickoff. The service academy recovered the loose ball and scored on the ensuing drive.
Brown answered back with two rushing touchdowns to give the Owls the lead late in the first quarter. Army dominated for the next quarter and a half, running the score up to 28-13 before Temple got back into its rhythm.
Senior wide receiver Michael Campbell, who was held catchless in last week’s loss to Penn State, caught a touchdown pass from junior wide receiver Joe Jones late in the third quarter to bring the Owls within seven points. On that play, Stewart tossed the ball to Jones – who, instead of running, threw the ball to an open Campbell in the end zone for the score. Campbell finished with five catches for 124 yards and two touchdowns.
Redshirt-junior quarterback Chester Stewart accounted for his lone touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter when he connected with Campbell on an eight-yard pass that tied the game at 28 points. Stewart, who finished the game with 127 passing yards, played considerably better in the second half after throwing for an abysmal 33 yards on three-of-10 passing in the opening half.
“I didn’t do anything different [in the second half],” Stewart said. “I think it was more the receivers being more confident in the second half, and they made plays for me. All I had to do was deliver the ball. It gives me a lot of confidence knowing I can just throw the ball and let my receivers make plays.”
Army’s pass defense was also noticeably weaker in the second half, Army senior defensive back Richard King added.
“As far as the pass coverage goes, we definitely didn’t execute our techniques in the second half,” King said. “We did not perform to the best of our abilities.”
Brown would score two additional rushing touchdowns in the fourth quarter to give the Owls some breathing room. It proved crucial as Army sophomore quarterback Trent Steelman would rush for a touchdown with one minute, 13 seconds left to bring the Black Knights within seven points. The Owls would recover the ensuing onside kick attempt, though, to win.
Brown’s four touchdowns tied for the most individual touchdowns ever scored at Michie Stadium, a record originally set by National Football League Hall-of-Famer Tony Dorsett in 1975. Steelman also tied that record. Brown’s total also tied for the most in Temple history.
“[Brown] may be our fiercest competitor, and he makes a lot of guys miss,” Golden said. “It’s nice to have those type of running backs. Matt’s proven himself in big games and big environments.”
“We didn’t handle him well,” Army coach Rich Ellerson added. “[Temple] created some space for him. They did a nice job of getting him started. They had enough space, and in that open-field tackling drill, he won way too many reps.”
Replacing Pierce was far from new for Brown. Last season, when Pierce was unable to play, Brown rushed for 156 and 172 yards against Kent State and Ohio, respectively. Pierce’s injury provided at least some extra motivation against the Black Knights, Brown said.
“I tried to do my best because [Pierce] was out,” Brown said. “I knew I had a big hole to fill, so I tried to do that to the best of my abilities.”
“I think I played well, but we have to repeat [the performance in the future],” Brown added. “It can’t be a one-hit wonder.”
Steelman finished with 65 rushing yards on 19 carries to go along with his four scores. In addition to the ground game, the Black Knights uncharacteristically had success through the air, where Steelman completed nine-of-16 passes for 124 yards and a touchdown. Army’s offense was difficult for the Owls to adjust to, junior defensive tackle Muhammad Wilkerson said.
“[Defending the option] doesn’t get any easier,” Wilkerson said. “They have guys that are fundamental in what they run. Guys whose jobs are to get [defensive linemen] down by [cut blocking] them. It doesn’t get easy as a defense. You have to keep your eye on your key and do what you’re supposed to do every down.”
In the end, the Owls managed to come back from a significant deficit while they played in one of college football’s unique environments. The resiliency of the team made the game memorable, Golden said.
“That’s the biggest win since I’ve been here, make no mistake,” Golden said. “In that kind of environment, to stay together, to be down 15 and then reel off 29 straight, that’s a big win and a credit to our coaches.”
Temple’s next challenge comes in the form of Northern Illinois on Saturday in just its second Mid-American Conference game of the season. Kickoff is set for noon.
Kyle Gauss can be reached at email@example.com.