The nightmare is over. Temple’s season came to an unceremonious end last Saturday in a 45-28 defeat at the hands of West Virginia in Morgantown.
The game capped a disappointing 1-11 season that included a seven-game losing streak. The last time Temple notched only one win was 1996. This season was the Owls’ coach Bobby Wallace’s worst finish in his six seasons here. He has one year remaining on his contract.
Another slow start for the Owls led to their demise as the Mountaineers jumped out to a 21-0 lead in the first half. Once again the Owls mounted a comeback led by sophomore sensation quarterback Walter Washington who finished the game with 288 total yards and tied a school-record with four rushing touchdowns.
Washington said he doesn’t understand why the Owls constantly get off to slow starts. Temple was outscored 122-21 in the first quarter of games this season.
“I’m trying to figure that out myself,” Washington said. “We just can’t get it going early. I wish I knew. I really don’t have an answer.”
After starting quarterback Mike McGann went down with an injured elbow against Rutgers, Washington stepped in and started the final four games of the season. Despite losing all his starts, Washington’s play galvanized the Owls and kept them in games.
Washington performed brilliantly and posted better passing stats than McGann. He completed 53 percent of his passes and threw for eight TDs. In addition, his bulky size and agility made him the team’s top rushing threat. Washington led the team with 579 rushing yards and six TDs.
So is he a running quarterback?
“I grew tremendously this season, just being able to pass and make my mistakes early,” he said “I don’t like being looked at as a running quarterback. I’d rather be looked at as a versatile one.”
Heading into spring practice Washington and McGann will compete for the starting position. Although Washington is a natural runner, both he and Wallace think he can be an even more dangerous passer.
Being an underdog is something Washington is used to. Few colleges recruited him out of high school because of his 6-foot height. Following a great season at Dodge City Community College in Dodge City, Kan., numerous big-time football programs were recruiting him. He chose Temple for a variety of reasons.
“I have a passion to play quarterback,” he said. “It was something else that brought me here. I love the offense, the staff and the coaches who recruited me. They made me their top recruit. They told me I’d be a big part of the offense.”
Next year will be the Owls final season in the Big East Conference. Washington admitted it was tough going through a one-win season. The Owls lost three games in overtime this season and the program has suffered through 14-straight losing seasons.
“I’m used to coming from the bottom,” Washington said. “Coming here I knew it was going to be tough. It was very hard, I’m used to winning and to come here and win just one game was something I wasn’t used to.”
Critics of Temple’s program continue to say the Owls can’t compete at the Division I-A level. Temple didn’t help itself by dropping all five home games this season. A month before the season Temple struck a deal with the Philadelphia Eagles to use Lincoln Financial Field as their home. They shelled out $15 million in state funding.
Nevertheless Washington is not concerned with the critics. He said if the team was doing well “they’d be all over the bandwagon.” And he does believe the Owls will be competitive in the future and string together more wins. While that remains to be seen, having Washington on the field will certainly improve those chances.
Jason S. Haslam can be reached at email@example.com.