Logan Marchi tried to make a play.
The redshirt-sophomore quarterback kept scrambling back until Houston junior linebacker Emeke Egbule sacked him for a loss of 24 yards. After starting their opening drive on the 50-yard line and reaching Houston’s 7-yard line, the Owls fell out of field-goal range and had to punt.
The Owls’ miscues continued throughout the first half of their 20-13 loss at Lincoln Financial Field on Saturday.
“When you’re playing a quality opponent like Houston, who’s one of the top teams in this league, you gotta make sure you’re executing everything cleanly, playing as hard as you can,” coach Geoff Collins said. “And you can’t beat yourselves because they’re too good to end up beating yourselves on some silly things.”
Late in the first quarter, Houston senior quarterback Kyle Postma’s pass to senior wideout Linell Bonner fell incomplete.
Defensive coordinator Taver Johnson saw the ball hit the ground, turned away and went to call the next play.
But once he turned away, Temple’s sideline erupted in frustration. Sophomore linebacker Shaun Bradley was penalized for targeting Bonner. Targeting is when “a player takes aim at an opponent for purposes of attacking with forcible contact that goes beyond making a legal tackle or a legal block or playing the ball,” according to the 2017 rulebook.
Bradley led with his right shoulder and hit Bonner in the helmet after he dropped the ball.
Houston gained 14 yards off the penalty and knocked in a field goal four plays later to take a 10-0 lead.
Collins said the referees told him it was a helmet-to-helmet collision.
But Johnson was shocked by the call.
“I looked up and the flag was down, and I heard the referee and everything,” Johnson said. “It was like, ‘Wow, seriously?’ Even on the replay it was hard to tell. Those are never fun, and then again, the refs have a tough job to do when it comes to do that.”
Temple couldn’t establish a rhythm on offense early in the game. The Owls’ first six drives in the opening half either resulted in a punt or turnover. One drive started on their own 42-yard line.
But early in the second quarter, Marchi completed two consecutive passes to sophomore wide receiver Randle Jones and redshirt-senior wide receiver Keith Kirkwood for a combined 31 yards and to position Temple in Houston territory.
Two plays later, Kirkwood made an adjustment on a pass from Marchi on the sideline for a 30-yard catch, but it was ruled incomplete after review. The referees said Kirkwood’s knee landed out-of-bounds while he made the catch.
Marchi threw his first interception of the day to Houston junior safety Garrett Davis on the following play. Marchi had 182 passing yards, completing 20-of-41 attempts for a touchdown and three interceptions.
Junior safety Delvon Randall gave the Owls some life late in the second quarter with a diving interception on the sideline. But Marchi threw a ball into traffic intended for redshirt-freshman tight end Kenny Yeboah on the ensuing drive. The ball was tipped before Houston junior cornerback Isaiah Johnson came away with the interception.
In two conference games, Marchi has completed 42.6 percent of his passes and thrown six interceptions.
“You can always put it in a better spot,” Marchi said. “The responsibility is on me for that. I got to put a better ball on them. The one to Kenny, I could put a better spot on that. I just got to make good decisions.”
Though Temple had mishaps early in the game, the Owls ran the ball effectively in the third quarter.
The Owls used an uptempo approach on their only touchdown drive of the game. Redshirt-junior running back David Hood and junior running back Ryquell Armstead combined for 65 rushing yards on the drive. Hood scored on fourth-and-goal on a 1-yard forward pitch from Marchi to bring the Owls within 10 points.
Offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude said the Owls can build off that drive.
“Right now, it’s a growing process,” Patenaude said. “We gotta continue to grow them, and we can’t just have everybody jump off the ship and start being really negative because we have a young group that’s got to be able to learn. And come the end of the season, we’ll be much better than we are now.”