WEST POINT, N.Y. – Temple averaged 296 yards rushing and ran for nine touchdowns combined during its most recent two wins against Army, with senior running back Matt Brown combining for 359 yards and six touchdowns himself.
However, on Saturday, Nov. 17, at Army, senior running back Montel Harris broke new ground for Temple running backs.
Harris rushed for Temple records of 351 yards and seven touchdowns to lead Temple (4-6, 2-4 Big East Conference) to a 63-32 win against Army (2-9).
“We went out and ran the heck out of the football,” coach Steve Addazio said. “I thought we went out and made a statement. I thought we played with heart. We needed that game. We needed to play like that and I’m really proud of our team.”
“It was a great achievement,” Harris said. “The offensive line blocked the defense well and gave me some running lanes. It’s a blessing to have [records] like that.”
Harris’ rushing marks also broke Big East records for rushing yards and touchdowns in a game, and he finished fifty-five yards away from tying the all time Division I single-game rushing record. The 63 points tied another school record for most points scored in a single game, and the win broke a four-game losing streak for the Owls.
“What goes unnoticed is, when you come off a run of games like we’ve been playing, you lose your confidence,” Addazio said. “That can wear on you. No one really understands that.”
Harris’ performance came in a game that had multiple sub-plots. Junior quarterback Clinton “Juice” Granger made his first career start in place of redshirt-junior quarterback Chris Coyer, who was benched for what Addazio referred to as leadership issues.
“I thought Juice tried to bring some real leadership to the team, so I said, ‘The heck with it, I’m going to let him go,” Addazio said.
“[Addazio] said it was going to be an open competition, so I just tried to prepare like I was the starter and know the game plan,” Granger said.
Senior placekicker Brandon McManus became Temple’s all-time points leader with nine points, surpassing Bernard Pierce’s mark of 324 career points set last year.
Brown started off the game with back-to-back touchdown runs on ensuing drives, but was pulled after suffering a hamstring injury in the second quarter. Harris then took over.
Harris scored twice in the second and third quarters and three times in the fourth quarter. He had three touchdown runs of 37 or more yards.
Brown finished the game with 71 yards and two touchdowns, and Temple rushed for a total of 534 yards, another school record.
Temple’s offensive rout got started on the Owls’ opening series.
Temple hadn’t scored a touchdown on its first offensive possession in a game all season. With Granger at the helm against Army, the Owls scored touchdowns on their first two drives.
Granger led the Owls on a 10 play, 75-yard scoring drive on his first possession as a Division I starting quarterback. Brown rushed three times for 35 yards, including a 12-yard touchdown that put Temple up one score with nine minutes, 11 seconds left in the first quarter.
“I thought [Granger] managed the offense really well,” Addazio said. “He needed that. He came out here and handled stuff.”
“It felt good to be out there and be a leader and help my team to victory,” Granger said. “It wasn’t perfect, but I’ll continue to grow.”
Temple followed that up with a five play, 68-yard drive capped off by a 36-yard touchdown run by Brown on 4th down with 3:03 left in the first quarter, his second touchdown of the game.
Army answered in the beginning of the second quarter with a seven-yard touchdown run by senior quarterback Trent Steelman. Steelman rushed for 53 yards on the drive, which went for 83 yards and ended at the 12:30 mark of the second quarter with the Temple lead cut in half.
Brown left the game with 10:54 left in the first half after going down on a punt return. He was noticeably limping on his left leg. Brown has been dealing with a left ankle sprain he suffered against South Florida on Oct. 6.
“Whenever you have a big player go down, you have to step up,” Harris said. “That’s just what I was trying to do. The offensive line picked it up, and that’s what we did.”
After forcing Temple’s first punt of the game in the second quarter, the Black Knights orchestrated a nine play, 62-yard drive that resulted in a 37-yard field goal by senior placekicker Eric Osteen. Army sophomore fullback Larry Dixon rushed for 45 yards on the drive, one of X Army players to rush the ball. The drive cut the Temple lead to four with 4:57 remaining in the first half.
However, Harris took over as the featured back and picked up where Brown left off. Harris scored on back-to-back Temple drives to extend the lead to 18 at halftime.
With an extra point on the Harris’ score before halftime, McManus, who has kicked every field goal for Temple since his freshman year, became the program’s all time leading scorer.
“It’s been a blessing to come here and have the opportunity to start every game,” McManus said. “I couldn’t have asked for anything more.”
“It’s been a great run. I really enjoy college football, there’s nothing else like it,” McManus added. “If I have the opportunity to play at the next level, I’d rather play college football for the rest of my life.”
Harris busted open a 60-yard touchdown run on the Owls’ second drive of the second quarter to retake the first-half momentum, and plunged in for a one-yard score with 28 seconds left in the first half.
Harris finished the first half with 173 yards and two touchdowns. The Owls rushed for 259 yards in the first half and outgained Army 290 yards to 219 yards.
Army continued to have success running the ball in the second half, beginning with the Black Knights’ opening drive.
It took Army four plays and 1:03 to cut the Temple lead to 10 in the second half. The Black Knights moved 75 yards downfield, due in large part to a 43-yard run by Dixon. Steelman ran it in from the one, and Army added a two-point conversion to make the deficit 10 points with 13:57 left in the third quarter.
But the Black Knights’ defense couldn’t get its offense back on the field. Temple responded with an 11 play, 75 yard drive, capped off by a one-yard run by Harris, his third touchdown of the day.
“This is a tremendous win. It was a team effort,” freshman linebacker Tyler Matakevich said. The offense did a tremendous job moving the ball up the field. The defense knew it just had to make a few stops to get the ball to the offense.
Temple and Army exchanged sustained, run-heavy touchdown drives toward the end of the third quarter and into the fourth quarter. Steelman rushed for a 56-yard touchdown with 5:48 left in the third, but Harris responded with a 37-yard touchdown of his own on the ensuing drive.
After an Army punt, Temple put together another 68-yard drive, capped off by a two-yard score by Harris with 14:54 remaining in the fourth.
Harris added touchdowns of 37 yards and one-yard in the fourth quarter to close out his historic day.
At the end, Temple outgained Army 565 yards to 495 yards. Army gained 407 yards on the ground, a season high allowed for Temple.
Temple will play its season finale on Nov. 23 against Syracuse at 11 a.m. at Lincoln Financial Field. If the Owls get to five wins, it’s possible the team can become bowl eligible if there’s a shortage of bowl eligible teams.
But for now, the players are happy to remember what it feels like to win a game.
“We can only control what we do,” McManus said. “We were glad to come out and get a win. If everything falls in our place, we’re going to come out and play the way Temple does.”
Joey Cranney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @joey_cranney.