Before Austin Jones could kick a 32-yard field goal to lift the Owls past the University of Massachusetts 25-23 Saturday at Gillette Stadium, Temple had to run one more play.
With 18 seconds remaining and the Owls down by one point with the ball at the Minutemen’s 27-yard line, junior quarterback tossed a 12-yard pass near the sideline to senior wide receiver John Christopher setting up the sophomore kicker’s’ attempt with 12 seconds left.
The play capped a 50-yard drive for the Owls, which started at their own 35-yard line and featured Walker connecting on five of his seven passes.
“It was a great ball by P.J.,” Christopher said. “He couldn’t have put it anywhere else. It was a great ball. The line protected, so we executed the play.”
After UMass took a 23-20 lead with 1:20 remaining, senior defensive back Will Hayes returned a blocked extra point for a two-point conversation, bringing the Owls within one point, 23-22.
On the play, UMass was also assessed an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, which forced the Minutemen to kick off from their own 20-yard line.
“This game had so many ups and downs,” said redshirt-junior linebacker Stephaun Marshall, who recovered the blocked kick and lateralled the ball to Hayes on the return. “Things weren’t going our way but we still fought. We scratched and clawed for the win. It feels good.”
With three minutes remaining and a 20-17 lead, junior running back Jahad Thomas fumbled the ball, allowing the Minutemen the opportunity to take the lead.
In the team’s 34-26 win against Cincinnati Sept. 12, Thomas also fumbled the ball late in the game as the team was trying to hold onto its lead.
“Last week was pretty upsetting and even this week, it’s even worse,” Thomas said. “We have some great guys next to me on this team. For the defense to come out for the second week, everyone did their job. … I know at the end of the day I have to get that fixed.”
Thomas was held to a season-low 66 yards rushing on 25 attempts. Through the Owls’ first two games, Thomas was the No. 3 rusher in the Football Bowls Subdivision averaging 164 yards per game.
As a team, the Owls totaled 68 rushing yards. The Minutemen allowed 147 yards rushing in their 48-14 loss against the University of Colorado Sept. 12.
“We didn’t have a great game running the ball,” Thomas said. “We got to go back and watch film and give credit to [UMass]. They played a hell of a game up front and at the linebacker level. They kept containing our offense rushing wise.”
Walker threw for a career-high 391 yards passing on a season-high 48 attempts. The junior also threw his one touchdown pass and two interceptions. Before Saturday’s game, Walker was 28-40 for 224 yards passing with no interceptions against Cincinnati and Penn State.
“I’d rather win and run the ball then throw the ball 50 and lose,” Walker said. “So if we go out there, if we’re running the ball effectively that works. We got to stick to it.”
Sophomore wide receiver Adonis Jennings opened the game’s scoring with a 23-yard touchdown catch from Walker. Three minutes later, Thomas found the end zone on a 14 yard-run, giving the Owls a 14-0 lead.
“Adonis is a powerful dude, who can run,” Walker said, “Who can actually just run through people.”
UMass responded less than two minutes later with a 48-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Blake Frohnapfel to tight end Rodney Mills.
After UMass kicker Blake Lucas kicked a 24-yard field goal to make the score 14-10, Jones knocked a 33-yard field goal through the uprights, putting the Owls ahead by seven points.
UMass tied the game at 17 before halftime on a another touchdown pass from Frohnapfel to Mills.
“At halftime, we looked shell shocked, like we didn’t expect it to be like that or we were upset it was like that,” coach Matt Rhule said. “It’s gonna be like that. That’s what college football is like.”
The Owls allowed 271 yards in the first half, including 261 yards passing from Frohnapfel, while wide Receiver Tajae Sharpe totaled 143 yards receiving. Frohnapfel finished the game with 393 passing yards and three touchdowns.
Michael Guise can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Michael_Guise