Mixed emotions for Temple football during homecoming win

The Owls remain undefeated in The American, after a comeback win against No. 20 Cincinnati.

Redshirt-junior running back Jager Gardner carries the ball during Temple’s 24-17 overtime win against Cincinnati on Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field. | GENEVA HEFFERNAN / THE TEMPLE NEWS

As redshirt-sophomore quarterback Anthony Russo led Temple’s offense downfield on a potential game-tying drive on Saturday against Cincinnati, Chapelle Russell said he couldn’t help but feel nervous.

“The whole game we were just anxious,” the redshirt-junior linebacker said. “We just played hard every snap because we know what we are capable of.”

Temple tied the game, scored on the first drive of overtime and intercepted the final pass of the game to earn a 24-17 upset win against nationally ranked Cincinnati (6-1, 2-1 American Athletic Conference). The Owls (5-3, 4-0 The American) earned their first win against a top-20 team since their 34-10 win against Navy in the 2016 conference championship.

Temple is tied atop The American’s East Division with Central Florida (7-0, 4-0 The American), which is ranked No. 10 in the Associated Press poll on Monday and has won 20 games in a row dating back to the start of the 2017 season.

The Owls are in the midst of their bye week, gearing up for a Nov. 1 road matchup against UCF. Temple will then face Houston on Nov. 10. The Cougars (6-1, 3-0 The American) lead the West and received votes in Sunday’s AP poll. After that, the Owls have a matchup with No. 21 South Florida (7-0, 3-0 The American), which is second in the East Division.

Redshirt-freshman offensive lineman Griffin Sestili screams with joy following Temple’s 24-17 win against Cincinnati on Saturday. | GENEVA HEFFERNAN / THE TEMPLE NEWS

The winner of the East Division will face the West Division victor in the conference title game.

Coach Geoff Collins said on Monday that early-week practices will focus on developing the Owls’ young talent. Preparation for the Nov. 1 game against UCF will ramp up later this week.

Junior wide receiver Randle Jones felt confident Temple would beat Cincinnati in overtime after it tied the game on a 20-yard touchdown pass to redshirt sophomore Branden Mack with 49 seconds left.

Russo connected with junior wide receiver Isaiah Wright for a 25-yard touchdown on the third play of overtime. All Temple had to do was prevent Cincinnati’s offense from scoring a touchdown to secure the win.

Junior linebacker Shaun Bradley intercepted Cincinnati redshirt-freshman quarterback Desmond Ridder on third-and-36 to clinch the game.

“That’s the Temple TUFF: Never quit no matter the circumstances, you just go out and play your game,” Russo said. “We had some mistakes at the end that were my fault, but we just went out there and kept competing and kept playing.”

Russo threw interceptions on the two drives that preceded the game-tying touchdown. Cincinnati had chances to take a two-score lead, but Temple’s defense forced three-and-outs after both turnovers.

Redshirt-senior fullback Rob Ritrovato hugs redshirt-sophomore quarterback Anthony Russo following Temple’s 24-17 win against Cincinnati on Saturday. | GENEVA HEFFERNAN / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Senior cornerback Rock Ya-Sin said Russell, senior safety Delvon Randall and Bradley kept saying, “It’s up to us to win this game,” on the sideline in the second half.

“We knew we had to get stops,” Russell added. “Fourth-quarter shutouts, those are big-time. If a team can’t score in the fourth quarter to push the lead, you can’t get comfortable, they are always going to be on their heels.”

Two Cincinnati turnovers in the first five minutes allowed Temple to jump out to a 10-0 lead. The next 11 offensive possessions, before Mack’s score, resulted in seven punts, three interceptions and one turnover on downs. The Bearcats scored 17 consecutive points, including freshman running back Charles McClelland’s 42-yard, go-ahead touchdown rush in the third quarter.

The Owls’ defense forced a turnover on downs and four punts after McClelland’s touchdown to keep it a one-possession game.

Mack and Wright said trailing in the second half on Saturday was a familiar situation. The Owls trailed during the second half of a game for the fifth time this season, but Saturday was only the second time they came away with a victory.

Collins said the team practices scenarios in which it trails or is in overtime and needs a touchdown to tie or win the game.

“We knew it was going to be a dogfight going in,” Ya-Sin said. “So that is what we prepared for. We wanted it to be a dogfight, we didn’t want an easy game. We knew it would come down to the last few seconds.”

“What an unbelievable football game,” Collins said. “It was really nice to see us keep our composure in a testy game. …Our guys were the ones that had the composure when others didn’t.”

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