Victory for the Owls was closer Saturday than it has been at any time this season against a Division I-A opponent. When the game was over, though, the result was the same, even if coach Bobby Wallace was more satisfied with the effort.
The Owls (1-5, 0-1) took a 10-point lead into the fourth quarter of their Homecoming game with Pittsburgh, only to fall, 27-22, in their closest loss of the season. The game itself was highlighted by the Panthers’ two trick plays leading to big yardage and two goal-line stands to prevent Temple quarterback Walter Washington from scoring.
The overall theme centered on bouncing back from last weekend’s 70-16 beating by Bowling Green.
“The coaches got [the players] tennis balls and wrote, ‘Bounce back’ on them,” said Wallace, whose staff did everything it could to lift the team’s spirits for the matchup with Pitt (3-2, 1-1). “We tried to get these kids showing their pride, and they did a great job today. We made some mistakes that cost us, but we played hard.”
Bouncing back was Washington, who had a career-high 314 passing yards on 30-of-44 attempts.
A week ago, Washington split time under center with senior Mike McGann and struggled, completing just six passes for 32 yards. Washington’s three touchdown passes against Pitt also set a career mark for him.
Senior wide receivers Phil Goodman and Buchie Ibeh bounced back from injuries to start together for the first time in three weeks. Goodman caught three passes for 22 yards and a touchdown, while Ibeh hauled in a career-high seven catches for 73 yards.
First-time starters Ryan Gore, A.J. Lindsay and Randy Johnson helped the Owl defense bounce back from the 639 yards of total offense it allowed to Bowling Green to hold the Panthers to 360 yards compared to the Owls’ 458. Gore filled in at linebacker for Rian Wallace, who was benched for breaking a team rule.
The ‘bounce back’ philosophy apparently worked, because the Owls were not as dejected after this loss as they were for the previous four.
Troy Bennett, who left the game in the fourth quarter with an injury but still led the team with 10 tackles, said the Owls need to be more consistent with the good things they did against Pitt.
“We made some big plays, and in the third and fourth quarter we’ve just got to finish it,” Bennett said. “That’s how you win games.”
The Owls defense surrendered 21 unanswered points, before Washington’s third touchdown pass in the waning seconds.
One yard. Just one yard and the Owls might have been running away with a big lead. Wallace knew his decision to go for it on two fourth-and-goal situations would be questioned, especially when the margin of defeat (six points) was equal to the amount of points the Owls would have gotten with two short field goals.
“Any play that doesn’t work, you wish you didn’t call it,” Wallace said. “But if he scores, it’s a great call.”
The plays had very little effect on the dynamics of the game at the time. The first was essentially offset by Eric Carpenter’s sack of Pitt quarterback Tyler Palko in the end zone for a safety, giving the Owls two points back.
The Panther offense followed the second stop by going three-and-out and punting from their own 7-yard line.
“Any time you don’t get it in on fourth and one, it hurts,” Wallace said. “It was a factor, but we’ve just got to get it in the end zone. I didn’t feel any momentum change on the sideline from our kids and see their heads down or anything like that.”
Carpenter was credited with the Owls’ first safety since 2000, but his sack nullified what would have been an interception returned for a touchdown. Said Carpenter of the safety after the game, “It was big, but I kind of wish I didn’t sack him.”…Washington said he’s been having trouble throwing with a sore shoulder lately. “I haven’t been able to generate any power in the beginning and middle of the game, but in this game I was able to fight through it.”
Benjamin Watanabe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.