While the lingering seconds ticked off the clock before Temple sealed its first defeat of a ranked opponent in 16 years, Matt Rhule tried to ignore his beckoning father.
“My dad’s on the sidelines for every game, and with 25 seconds left he gave me the thumbs up and I told him to be quiet,” Rhule said. “I wasn’t excited until the very end. Sometimes you’re able to steal a win and I felt like we defeated some obstacles in our way.”
A glance at the box score brings to light East Carolina’s 432 total yards of offense compared to Temple’s 135. Pirates senior quarterback Shane Carden amassed 217 yards through the air, while Temple sophomore P.J. Walker totaled 70. East Carolina junior Chris Hairston led the Pirates with 153 rushing yards. The Owls’ rushing leader, senior Kenny Harper, compiled 29 yards.
East Carolina’s seven fumbles – five of them turnovers – impacted the scoreboard, though, equating to a pair of Temple touchdowns in the first quarter of the Owls’ eventual 20-10 win.
Despite outgaining Temple by 297 yards, the Pirates, whom entered the contest at No. 21 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll, failed to break through against Temple’s defense until the clock read 2 minutes, 15 seconds left to play in the final quarter.
The Owls’ defense, run by coordinator Phil Snow, managed to sack Carden four times. Despite allowing more than 400 yards, Snow’s defensive unit managed to limit an East Carolina offense averaging 39.6 points through its first seven games to 10 points, its lowest total of the season.
The five turnovers on fumbles increased Temple’s turnover total to 24, nearly doubling its cumulative number of 13 from last season in eight games this fall.
“We dropped eight [guys] a lot and we rushed three,” Snow said. “And then we had some other little wrinkles for them that they had not seen. They thought we were going to play a lot of man on 3rd-and-6 or less, which we had all year, and we didn’t play any. We changed some tendencies and things just fell right. Sometimes that happens. They’re a heck of a football team and today we won the battle.”
After the squad allowed 30-plus point totals in each of the past two weeks in road losses to Houston and Central Florida, Snow said he had worried of his unit’s confidence heading into the contest. His defense responded by forcing two Pirates fumbles in the first quarter, with redshirt-junior Praise Martin-Oguike obliging on the first, which was returned for 63 yards to the endzone by junior defensive back Tavon Young.
Martin-Oguike finished a memorable contest with two forced fumbles, 1 1/2 sacks and 3 1/2 total tackles for combined losses of 18 yards.
“The guy who’s really improved in our defense is [Martin-Oguike],” Snow said. “Praise may be playing better than anybody on our defense.”
“We tried to get faster at defensive end, so we moved [sophomore Sharif] Finch there,” Snow added. “Praise started at linebacker, and I watched him and said, ‘Hey Praise, let’s try defensive end.’ He said ‘You think I can play that?’ And I said, ‘Yeah.’ … He bought into it and he’s gotten better every week. He’s hard to block.”
Martin-Oguike was sidelined for the past two seasons in light of a rape and sexual assault charge that was dropped last October after evidence surfaced that he was falsely accused. After his reinstatement with both with the university and its football team prior to the fall semester, the 6-foot-2-inch, 250-pound defensive lineman said he’s just happy to be back on a football field.
“It feels great,” Martin-Oguike said. “I just thank God every day. I’m happy to be here.”
Andrew Parent can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on twitter at @Andrew_Parent23