The Owls beat themselves on Saturday, and their coach was pleased.
Last weekend was the first time since coach Bobby Wallace’s first season at the helm that he divided his players into two teams and set them loose for four quarters in the annual Cherry & White game. The intra-squad scrimmage culminated four weeks of spring practice.
Held before some 400 Temple supporters at the Edberg-Olson Football facility, the White team, led by senior quarterback Mike McGann, emerged with a 17-14 victory.
“We became a separate team,” said junior linebacker Rian “Goo” Wallace on the White squad’s mentality. “We looked at the Cherry like they were somebody else from the Big East. We were all excited, like it was a little rivalry, looking at them mean all week.”
Rian Wallace, the team’s leading tackler in 2003, sat out with a minor back strain. In his absence, however, a few of his teammates took the opportunity to show off what they’ve been working on in practice.
McGann looked confident, completing 13 of 27 passes for 174 yards and a touchdown. Junior Walter Washington, slated to be the Owls’ starting quarterback, completed 16 of 35 attempts for 226 yards with a flashy, yet inconsistent performance by his receiving corps.
Senior wide receiver Buchie Ibeh, who led the Cherry with seven catches for 111 yards, felt his squad’s offense might have succumbed to complacency by running familiar plays that had become routine during practice.
“We were just satisfied with making the plays,” Ibeh said. “But coach Wallace told us from the beginning to the end that it’s not just about the plays. It’s about the performance. We’ve got to make plays when the pressure sets down on us.”
Also for the Cherry, converted cornerback Mike Holley grabbed four passes for 35 yards. Phil Goodman, the squad’s top receiver, hauled in seven passes for 108 yards, including a touchdown, to lead the way for the White.
The White team was headed by offensive line coach Jim Turner, while the Cherry was led by defensive backs coach Nick Rapone.
Down 3-0, the Cherry appeared to be threatening when Washington found Ibeh for a 30-yard gain, but was stripped at the four-yard line. Senior safety Lawrence Wade returned the fumble 34 yards to the White 38-yard line, where McGann and the White offense took over. McGann embarked on a sharp, methodical drive, culminating in a one-yard touchdown run by junior college transfer running back Tim Brown, to make the score 10-0.
Brown, a 2003 JC First-Team all-American at City College of San Francisco, impressed coaches and fans with a few tackle-shaking runs, but was taken down at or behind the line of scrimmage a number of times and finished with 19 yards on eight carries.
Coach Wallace insisted he would not discourage Brown from his instinctive running style.
“That’s his game, and he’s going to play that way,” Wallace said. “He’s a tough runner. He’s got to pick his times of cutting back and dancing, but you saw him run over somebody on the sideline. You saw him get that tough yardage on the inside trap on the TD run.”
The Cherry got their first points on junior RB Umar Ferguson’s two-yard TD carry on their first possession of the second half, cutting the deficit, 10-7.
The White took over at their own 40 and easily moved downfield. With the third quarter winding down, McGann hit Goodman for a twelve-yard TD catch on just the fifth play of the drive, stretching the White’s lead, 17-7, with 38 seconds left.
Washington tried to answer, but his first pass attempt on the ensuing drive was intercepted by senior cornerback Pete McBride. McBride could become vital to the Owls’ secondary with the possible loss of starting CB Ray Lamb. Lamb, defending Goodman for the Cherry team, suffered an injury to his left knee early in the second quarter; he was taken away by ambulance.
The receivers then suffered an epidemic of drops, with Goodman, junior Andre Mixon-Toland, and senior tight end Colin Hannigan all guilty of mishandling catchable passes.
As the game winded down, Washington marched the Cherry team on a 10-play, 80-yard scoring drive, and found Holley for a 15-yard TD catch with less than two minutes left in the game. Holley, who also saw action as a CB, spun and twisted his way into the end zone.
Then, junior college transfer kicker Ryan Lux attempted a 50-yard field goal for the Cherry squad that had the distance, but sailed wide left.
“Overall, I thought we competed, I thought the kids got into it, and the coaches got them into it all week long,” coach Wallace said. “They were divided up and were really fired up about playing the game. That’s a good sign, because that’s the way we’ve got to be ready to play each week next season.”
Senior wide receiver Ikey Chuku, who had two catches for the White squad, said the team was victorious because they stuck to a simple game plan.
“We’ve got to stay efficient with our plays,” he said. “I feel like we should get five yards every play we step on the field. Even though that doesn’t seem realistic, if we come out here and don’t drop the ball and get good yards on the runs, we’ll be all right.”
Ben Wantanabe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.