The pretense to Temple’s non-conference contest with Delaware State Saturday had a similar feel to it.
The game, though, was different from the outset.
Like last season, the Owls’ third game of the season featured a Football Championship Subdivision opponent at Lincoln Financial Field. Delaware State, like when Temple (2-1) faced Fordham on Sept. 14 of last year, was an opponent that was expected to pad Temple’s win column.
The Owls opened as 38 1/2-point favorites, before bettor types in Las Vegas’ Westgate Superbook bumped Temple to 39 1/2-point favorites over the Hornets prior to kickoff.
Last season’s matchup with FCS team Fordham opened with the Owls as favorites in a 24-point spread, and 21-point favorites by Bovada Online Gaming.
That 30-29 Temple loss ended with a 29-yard floating pass pulled in by Rams receiver Sam Ajala with four ticks remaining on the game clock. As Fordham players, coaches and fans gathered in a celebratory mob on the field, Temple’s personnel marched toward the locker room winless and without explanation.
By the end of it, Fordham’s Carlton Koonce had torched Temple’s defense for 168 yards on the ground, and quarterback Mike Nebrich had completed 23 of his 36 passing attempts for 320 yards and a pair of touchdown strikes.
“I’ll be completely honest, people should take shots at me right now,” coach Matt Rhule said following the game. “They should take shots at us. We shouldn’t have lost that game. Let’s be honest.”
A year later, Rhule denied the notion that the Fordham loss sifted toward the forefront of his players’ minds as they pounded Delaware State (0-4) in a 59-0 final.
“I don’t know if they used [Fordham] as motivation as much to learn,” Rhule said. “I didn’t bring it up this week. I had some people hand me the article, but I didn’t really talk about it.”
Granted, Delaware State is not Fordham, a team that reached the second round of the FCS playoffs and ranked as high as No. 5 in the FCS last year.
Heading into its matchup with Temple at the Linc, the Rams had upended then-No. 8 Villanova the week before in a 27-24 upset, and were hot.
Delaware State sat at 0-3 entering Saturday’s contest, and had been outscored 100-37 in its losses to Monmouth, Delaware and Towson, all FCS opponents.
While the setting seemed to mirror that of last season’s third loss, the contest itself quickly took a different path after redshirt sophomore Samuel Benjamin swatted away a punt attempt from Delaware State’s Jeremiah McGeough 3 minutes, 11 seconds in to the first quarter. Redshirt freshman Artrel Foster pounced on the loose ball and waltzed into the end zone, marking Temple’s first of eight trips.
Players like junior Jamie Gilmore, who registered a rushing touchdown and 43 yards on nine carries in the win, said the team learned from the one-point loss.
“That was what our focus was on,” Gilmore said, talking about the Fordham loss as a motivator. “Last year we came out flat against those guys. We had a tendency to playing down to our opponents. Today we came out and showed what we can do.”
Senior running back Kenny Harper soon punched in a two-yard score that followed another Owls fumble recovery.
Redshirt sophomore Khalif Herbin notched his first career touchdown by returning a punt 84 yards, the second-longest such run-back in school history.
Junior receiver Jalen Fitzpatrick amassed 75 yards receiving on three catches, while sophomore defensive lineman Sharif Finch legged out a host of Hornet defenders en route to a 65-yard interception return for a touchdown.
That score extended the Owls’ lead to 42-0 minutes in to the second quarter, and helped clinch what Temple aimed to do all along – dominate early, score often and rid itself of any further stigma with FCS competition.
“Even though I didn’t play last year, I know how the guys felt,” Herbin, who redshirted last season, said. “We didn’t prepare ourselves as well as we should have [against Fordham]. Everybody looked at it as a [FCS] team we thought we were just going to run over, and Fordham wasn’t having that … We expected Delaware State to come out with the same kind of intensity.”
Andrew Parent can be reached at email@example.com and on twitter @Andrew_Parent23