Connor Reilly’s appearance at quarterback for a last-second Hail Mary attempt before the halftime break was nothing out of the ordinary. After all, Reilly, who can throw for distance with his right arm, had done it previously this fall.
When Reilly trotted out for Temple’s second offensive series of the second half in its 34-14 loss to Central Florida at Bright House Networks Stadium on Saturday night, his presence under center was anything but routine. Sophomore P.J. Walker, who has started every Temple game since an American Athletic Conference matchup with the University of Cincinnati on Oct. 11 of last season, had been lifted from the contest.
The benching lasted three offensive series in which Reilly and company picked up one first down in a span of about 13 minutes.
According to a report, coach Matt Rhule said postgame that he brought Walker out of the game because he had “tweaked” his ankle in the first quarter. Walker, who has been bothered by ankle trouble this fall, was never meant to be pulled from the game for good, Rhule said.
After he was re-inserted into the game with 11 minutes, 51 seconds remaining on the game clock, the Owls failed to capitalize on a Central Florida fumble off a punt return at the Knights’ 15-yard line, capturing the overarching story.
Against the Knights (5-2, 3-0 The American), the Owls’ offense compiled 182 total yards. Central Florida amassed 466 yards of offense, 336 of which came through the air, and won the first-down count, 27-10.
From the outset, like Temple’s 31-10 loss to the University of Houston last Friday, UCF dominated play. The Knights rolled to a 17-0 lead after the first quarter, helped in part by quarterback Justin Holman, who threw for 78 yards and a passing score in the opening period.
Holman struck for 336 passing yards and a pair of touchdown passes after his own benching last weekend in the Knights’ 20-13 defeat of Tulane University.
A three-yard touchdown pass from Walker to sophomore Romond Deloatch put Temple (4-3, 2-2 The American) on the board early in the second quarter.
After Holman quickly connected with Breshad Perriman for a 54-yard touchdown on Central Florida’s ensuing possession, the Owls’ special teams helped give Temple life when redshirt-sophomore Samuel Benjamin blocked and returned a punt for a touchdown to cut the lead to 24-14. Junior Michael Felton got his hand on the Knights’ next punt and held it to a 27-yard boot, while sophomore defensive lineman Sharif Finch later stripped Knights senior receiver J.J. Worton on a punt return that gave Temple the ball on UCF’s 15-yard line with a chance to get back into the game with time left in the fourth quarter.
That drive featured an ominous timeout and ensuing delay-of-game penalty while the Owls faced a 4th-and-goal on the 1-yard line. It ended with a Walker interception in the end zone after he was hit as he threw.
The sophomore finished on 15-of-26 passing with a touchdown pass and two interceptions. The running game fared worse, compiling 32 yards on 21 carries, with sophomore Jahad Thomas accounting for 27 of those yards on nine carries.
After back-to-back losses to conference opposition, the Owls are set to host No. 18 East Carolina next Saturday at noon. The Pirates (6-1, 3-0 The American) defeated Connecticut 31-21 on Thursday.
Andrew Parent can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Andrew_Parent23.