Each game, Adam DiMichele inscribes a message on his wristband. Sometimes it’s religious. Other times it’s not. But it’s always inspirational.
Against Northern Illinois Saturday, the Temple quarterback wrote “Be their leader.”
As kicker Jake Brownell readied himself to kick a game-winning, 29-yard field goal, DiMichele offered some advice.
“I said, ‘I’m the only one going to talk to you,'” DiMichele said. “I was going to let him go. I didn’t know what to do. I had never talked as a holder when there was a big kick. I was just going with what I thought I should do.
“… I said, ‘Man, just boot this thing.'”
The ball split the uprights with nine seconds remaining, handing the football team its first win of the season, 16-15, on Homecoming at Lincoln Financial Field.
The win improved the Owls to 1-5, and 1-2 in the Mid-American Conference.
Brownell had missed a 37-yard field goal in the first quarter, but was glad to play the part of hero later.
“After the first field goal I knew I had to stay focused, because I knew it was going to be a battle throughout the game,” Brownell said. “I knew that there was a possibility that I would have to kick some more field goals and get some points on the board.
“For confidence level, I know I’m not going to make every kick. So, I try not to overemphasis it and just forget about it.”
Brownell legged the game-winner, but if not for the performance of the defense and some clutch plays by DiMichele on the final drive, he wouldn’t have had his moment in the spotlight.
The defense yielded just 15 points, the lowest they’ve held an opponent to since they topped Bowling Green, 28-14, on Homecoming last season. That was also their last victory.
The Owls surrendered a season-low 259 yards and stopped the Huskies on 10-of-13 third downs, many of them third-and-long.
“In practice, [defensive line coach Jared Backus] is always saying ‘Third down, third down,'” Terrance Knighton said. “And the defense echoes ‘Get off the field, get off the field.'”
Knighton, a tackle, got the defense off the field in style in the second quarter. On second-and-8, Huskies quarterback Dan Nicholson dropped back to pass. Knighton knocked the ball from Nicholson’s hand, scooped it up and lumbered 66 yards to the end zone for the Owls’ only touchdown.
“It’s a [defensive] lineman’s dream to score a touchdown,” Knighton said. “I knew this was my one chance and I had to make it to the end zone. When I did, I was like, ‘Finally.'”
“He told me he wants to try running back next week,” DiMichele quipped, “but we’ll see how that goes.”
DiMichele had a solid game himself, completing 18-of-32 passes for 202 yards and rushing for 55 yards on 14 carries.
In the first quarter, DiMichele led the Owls to the Huskies’ 21-yard line, completing three passes and rushing for eight yards. But on 4th-and-2, Brownell failed to put points on the board, missing a 39-yard field goal wide left.
The defense, which contained the Huskies powerful rushing game to 67 yards in the first half, came up big midway through the second quarter.
Following a 12-yard punt by Owls’ punter Jeff Wathne (Temple botched the snap), the Huskies began at the 50-yard line. On 3rd-and-14, Nicholson hit Marcus Perez for 13 yards to put the Huskies at the Temple 28.
Instead of attempting a field goal on 4th-and-one, Huskies coach Joe Novak elected to go for the first down. Tailback Jamal Anderson rushed up the gut, but Jaiquawn Jarrett and Leyon Azubuike greeted him with a fourth down stop.
“I think the defense is starting to grow up,” coach Al Golden said.
However, DiMichele made his biggest mistake on the subsequent drive, throwing an interception that allowed the Huskies to begin their drive at the Temple 26. They scored three plays later when Anderson scored on a one-yard carry. Kicker Chris Nendick missed the extra point, though, giving the Huskies a 6-0 lead.
The Owls again turned the ball over on their next drive when running back Jason Harper fumbled for the sixth time this season. Freshman Daryl Robinson played much of the second half in his place.
With the Huskies back on the field, Knighton swayed the momentum in favor of the Owls. His 66-yard fumble recovery gave him his first collegiate touchdown and gave the Owls’ their first lead of the day, at 7-6.
Brownell added to that lead, kicking a 25-yard field goal as the second quarter expired, sending the Owls to the locker room with a 10-6 advantage, their first halftime lead since beating Bowling Green last season.
The Owls ate up much of the third quarter with a 12-play, 66-yard drive that ultimately ended in a 38-yard field goal from Brownell, extending Temple’s lead to 13-6.
DiMichele and Robinson displayed their mobility on the drive. DiMichele rushed for gains of 13, 3, 20 and 12 yards while Robinson dashed for 38 yards on eight touches. Robinson finished with 71 yards on 14 carries.
“[Daryl’s] starting to learn it now,” Golden said. “He missed most of training camp and we’ve been trying to find things for him to do. I think the offensive line came off the ball well and Daryl did a nice job.”
Northern Illinois inched back into the game on the heels of Anderson, who got stronger as the game wore on. Anderson, the second-leading rusher in the MAC, bolted for 163 yards.
Still, the Owls defense held strong. With the Huskies holding a fresh set of downs at the Temple 7, the Owls ultimately forced Northern Illinois to kick a 23-yard field goal and maintained a 13-9 lead.
That lead vanquished on the Huskies’ next drive when Anderson darted for a 39-yard touchdown run. But Nendick, an honorable mention All-MAC selection last season, missed his second extra point of the day.
With just a two-point deficit at 15-13, the Owls just needed a field goal to win.
They, of course, got it – but not before the defense came up big one final time.
“This game was a blessing for our program in that we just didn’t win the game easily,” Golden said.
With the Huskies hoping for a long drive to ice the game, John Haley sacked Huskies back-up quarterback Ryan Morris on 3rd-and-12 to force a punt.
DiMichele took over from there, rushing for 15 yards and finding wide receiver Bruce Francis twice on back-to-back third down conversions. At the Huskies’ 22-yard line, the Owls called a timeout with 14 seconds remaining.
That set the stage for Brownell, who was all smiles afterward.
“It’s been a tough road for me since high school, so it’s overwhelming,” Brownell said. “The guys, we work really hard in the offseason. All that emotion trapped inside kind of just came out.”
John Kopp can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.