As coach Matt Rhule sat in a State College church, thoughts of the 1980 United States Olympic hockey team swirled through his head.
Following last year’s 30-13 loss to Penn State, Rhule visited the church to reflect on the team’s fifth loss of the season.
Thinking of how to correct his team’s mistakes, team USA’s 4-3 gold medal victory against the Soviet Union after losing 10-3 to the same team weeks before in an exhibition game gave Rhule the inspiration he needed.
“[The U.S. hockey team] figured out what they did wrong and they came back,” Rhule said. “If we want to win, we have to eliminate things.”
Rhule used the game as an example for the Owls home opener against Penn State Saturday, a game the team won 27-10. It was the first time the Owls defeated Penn State since Oct. 18, 1941.
“The reason we won is because they focused on themselves, not Penn State,” Rhule said. “We didn’t play Penn State music, we didn’t have the scout team wear blue jerseys. We focused on us and the players bought into that.”
Since the Owls’ win in 1941, Penn State was 38-0-1 against the Owls. In front of a sellout crowd of 69,176 at Lincoln Financial Field, the second sellout since the Owls began playing there in 2003, Temple defeated its in-state rival, who managed 180 yards of total offense.
“They just kept saying, ‘What is the next play?’” Rhule said. “So even at the end, I told them it was not the fact that we beat Penn State. It was the fact that we won. It is about Temple, not Penn State. … For our guys to do that in a game of this magnitude, to be able to focus on themselves when so many people are talking about the game, shows an unbelievable maturity.”
With 16 losses in Rhule’s first two seasons as coach, the Owls ninth win under his tenure was special for Rhule. He even received an email of support from former coach Wayne Hardin before the game.
“For our fans, I know how important this is,” Rhule said. “I am so thrilled for coach Hardin, I am so thrilled for our former players. … I don’t want to downplay this for Temple. It’s awesome for the university. It’s awesome for the program.”
After the emotional roller coaster the past two years, including eight loses in one-possession games and missing a bowl game after six wins a season ago, the football team is putting everything behind itself.
Last season’s disappointments prepared the Owls for situations like Saturday, where they trailed 10-0 after Penn State’s first two drives.
“This team, we are veterans,” senior linebacker Tyler Matakevich said. “We all went through [the losses]. We’ve been there when we went 2-10. We’ve been there when we went 6-6. We’ve been through anything you can possibly throw at us. So we know to focus and take it one play at a time and good things will happen.”
Rhule beat Penn State in recruiting for freshman defensive back Kareem Ali and sophomore defensive back Anthony Davis in recent seasons.
The third-year coach said he will use Saturday’s victory as a recruiting tool.
“I’m going to be recruiting [Saturday] and calling people and say ‘Hey, look what is happening here, and look at what our players are doing, and come do what they are doing,’” Rhule said. “This will help us in recruiting. This will help us with everything.”
With the Owls traveling to Cincinnati, the American Athletic Conference’s reigning champion, Saturday, some players have stressed that it is time to move on.
“We got  more games,” junior defensive lineman Sharif Finch said. “We aren’t even in conference play yet. It’s just another win for us. … [Sunday] is a whole new week. It’s game week all over again for Cincinnati.”
Michael Guise email@example.com, 215.204.9537 or on Twitter @Michael_Guise.