Needing 75 yards to reach the end zone, with only 50 seconds left and no timeouts remaining, Temple’s odds were slim when it trotted out on the field and tried to erase a on- touchdown deficit against American Athletic Conference rival Memphis.
Senior quarterback Phillip Walker ran for 20 yards and hit redshirt-sophomore wide receiver Ventell Bryant for 15 more to get the Owls past midfield, giving Temple a sliver of hope.
Walker fired down the right side of the field on the next play, and Memphis redshirt-senior defensive back Chauncey Lanier picked the ball off to crush the Owls’ comeback hopes as Temple (3-3, 1-1 The American) lost to Memphis, 34-27, on Thursday night at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.
Walker tied a school record with 445 yards passing and two touchdowns, but he added two interceptions, bringing his season total to eight. One of the picks was returned for a touchdown that gave Memphis its first lead of the game with 1:19 left in the third quarter.
The Owls’ defense, which held Memphis to three points in the first half, did what it needed to do to give Temple a chance at tying things up late in the game. With 3:20 left to play and trailing by seven, Temple got a stop on 3rd-and-3 and called its last timeout to force a Memphis punt.
Special teams hurt the Owls for the second time in the quarter. Redshirt-senior defensive lineman Praise Martin-Oguike ran into Memphis junior punter Nick Jacobs, giving the Tigers a first down and a chance to run more clock. Instead of having three minutes to work with, the Owls got the ball with 50 seconds.
After Temple grabbed a 13-0 lead and went into halftime up by 13-3, Memphis scored 27 straight points, capped by a 28-yard run from Tigers’ freshman running back Darrell Henderson,
to grab a two-touchdown lead.
Walker and senior running back Jahad Thomas connected on a 61-yard touchdown pass to get Temple within a touchdown, 27-21, but Tigers’ freshman wide receiver Tony Pollard returned the ensuing kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown to put his team back up by two scores.
Temple controlled the clock in the first half, holding the ball for 20:15 of the opening 30 minutes, but the Owls settled for field goals on their first two red zone trips, including one that started on the six yard line, and let Memphis hang around.
Coach Matt Rhule’s squad lost the turnover battle, 3-1. The Owls also committed seven penalties compared to Memphis’ three. A false start on 2nd-and-6 slowed momentum on the second Owls’ drive of the first quarter, leading to Jones’ first field goal.
Temple got to the red zone early in the fourth quarter down by seven, but progress slowed after an offensive pass interference penalty on Bryant. The Owls had to settle for a 26-yard field goal attempt, which was the second of Jones’ two misses.
Jones came into play with a streak of 17 straight field goals, tied for first among Football Bowl Subdivision kickers.
Despite missing some starters due to injuries, Temple’s defense held Memphis’ Top 10 offense to 20 points, as one touchdown came on an interception return and another came on a kickoff. Redshirt-senior defensive lineman Haason Reddick followed up his conference defensive player of the week performance with 11 tackles and two sacks.
The Owls, who grabbed the lead just more than eight minutes into the game and held it until the 3:08 mark in the third quarter, threw the ball 59 times compared to 29 runs. Temple averaged fewer than three yards per carry on Thursday.
Thomas and sophomore running back Ryquell Armstead still managed to find the end zone, as they have all season. Armstead gave the Owls a 13-0 lead with a two-yard run in the first half—his seventh on the year.
Along with his 61-yard touchdown catch, Thomas added a nine-yard touchdown grab with 3:49 left to get Temple within a touchdown and bring his touchdown total to eight in four games.
Evan Easterling and Owen McCue can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org