The football team was one foot away from a victory Saturday.
But a controversial call on the Owls final offensive play sealed Connecticut’s 22-17 win at Rentschler Field Saturday.
Trailing Connecticut (3-0 overall), 22-17 with 40 seconds left in the fourth quarter, the Owls (0-3, 0-1 in the Mid-American Conference) had one final shot to win the game on fourth-and-seven from the Huskies’ 12-yard line.
After receiving the ball from sophomore running back Jason Harper on a halfback toss reverse play, sophomore wide receiver Dy’Onne Crudup’s pass to red-shirt junior quarterback Adam DiMichele was deflected off of Huskies free safety Robert Vaughn and landed in the hands of junior wide receiver Bruce Francis, who caught the ball in the back of the end zone.
Although it appeared that Francis’ left foot may have been inbounds when he caught the deflection, referees called the play incomplete. After an extensive video review, officials upheld the call.
“What happened? I don’t know what happened,” coach Al Golden said. “I just saw the video. He’s in. I don’t know what to say.”
Following the game, Big East Conference replay official Jack Kramer said there was “not enough video evidence to reverse the play on the field.”
“I haven’t seen the replay yet,” Connecticut head coach Randy Edsall said,
“but one of my players came over to me and told me he thought Francis’ foot was in.”
Francis, who received a marginal amount of playing time in the Owls’ first two games of the season, caught a team-high four passes for 84 yards and one touchdown. But it was his final reception, which was ruled incomplete, that could have given the Owls their first win of the season.
“It just makes you feel bad because you know you’ve given it your all,” Francis said.
DiMichele, who went 9-for-18 for 143 yards with one touchdown against one interception, said the Owls have practice the halfback toss reverse play “every day for the last two weeks.”
“I was just saying my prayers that hopefully he caught it,” DiMichele said. “If it looked like he was in and they called it different, I really do not comprehend how that could happen.”
Golden said Francis told him that he was inbounds after the play ended.
“You fight for three and a half hours, and I wish we would’ve gotten more [yardage] on first and second down, but you’ve got to take a shot,” Golden said about the final play. “It’s really what the kids deserved at that point. They deserved to have an opportunity to win.”
The Owls went back-and-forth with the Huskies in the second half in a game that included four lead changes after intermission.
After struggling to find a running game in its first two contests of the season, Temple established an efficient ground attack, racking up 137 rushing yards in the second half. The Owls out-rushed the Huskies by 33 yards.
The Owls defense, which surrendered 42 points in a loss to Buffalo last week, tightened up after allowing sophomore running back Donald Brown to score on an eight-yard touchdown run to give the Huskies a 7-0 lead with 9:37 left in the first quarter. Sophomore defensive tackle Andre Neblett had two of the team’s season-high six sacks.
“The fact that we ran the ball and didn’t give up a big play kept us in the ball game,” Golden said.
Early in the third quarter, red-shirt sophomore linebacker Omar McDonnaugh-Hales forced a fumble by Connecticut quarterback Tyler Lornezen, which was recovered by freshman linebacker Amara Kamara on the Owls’ 36-yard line.
“I just put my hat on the ball and made it happen,” McDonnaugh-Hales said.
The Owls cashed-in on the turnover when Harper, who ran for 114 yards on 22 rushing attempts, marched into the end zone on a 14-yard touchdown run that put Temple ahead, 14-13, with 12:22 left in the third quarter. It was the Owls first lead since Oct. 28, when they defeated Bowling Green, 28-14, at Lincoln Financial Field.
The lead didn’t last for long, though.
On their next possession, the Huskies embarked on an eight-play, 64-yard drive. Red-shirt junior placekicker Tony Ciaravino capped off the drive by hitting a career-long 50-yard field goal to give the Huskies a 16-14 advantage.
The Owls led, 17-16, after red-shirt sophomore Jake Brownell nailed a 20-yard field goal with 2:43 left in the third quarter.
But, once again, the Huskies responded.
A five-yard touchdown run by Brown ended a seven-play, 69-yard drive that put the Huskies ahead, 22-17, with 14:54 left in the fourth quarter. Lorenzen went 19-for-29 passing for 222 yards while red-shirt sophomore Andre Dixon ran for 129 yards on 21 attempts.
Despite the efforts of Crudup, DiMichele and Francis on the Owls’ final play of the game, the Huskies held on for the victory.
“We gave a good effort,” freshman right guard Derek Dennis said, “but we still came up short.”
Tyson McCloud can be reached at Tyson@temple.edu