Despite having their best showing against No. 23 Penn State in years, the Owls lost, 22-13, after sophomore running back Bernard Pierce was injured.
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – While the football team led for the majority of the game against Penn State, mental mistakes and a general lack of poise by the Owls helped the Nittany Lions win, 22-13, in a come-from-behind fashion.
After allowing a field goal on the first drive of the game, Temple answered back with a 5-yard touchdown run by sophomore running back Bernard Pierce. The score marked the first time the Owls had scored a touchdown against Penn State since 2003.
Pierce would go on to score an additional touchdown in the first quarter to give the Owls a 13-6 lead entering the second quarter.
That’s pretty much where the offensive positives stopped.
The Owls received virtually no production from their passing game as redshirt-junior quarterback Chester Stewart completed a mere 42 percent of his passes en route to a 46-yard three-interception performance. After completing 67 percent of his passes in the first half, Stewart completed a mere two-of-13 passes in the final 30 minutes.
Pierce, who finished with 42 yards on 10 carries, left the game in the third quarter with a right ankle sprain. He will be a gametime decision against Army next week.
In his place, sophomore running back Matt Brown rushed for 48 yards on 12 carries. Stewart said the loss of Pierce did not have an impact on the game.
“We lost him, and it’s tough to lose one of your best players, but that’s not one of the reasons we lost this game today,” Stewart said. “We have a great back behind him. Each position can be filled. We have a lot of depth on this team.”
On defense, the Owls allowed PSU senior tailback Evan Royster and the Nittany Lions’ offense to compile their fair share of yards, but Temple managed to buckle down in the red zone. The Nittany Lions only scored one touchdown in five trips to the red zone.
“When you’re a tough team and you’re a disciplined team, you find a way to hang in there and get tough in the red zone,” Temple coach Al Golden said. “I thought we did that today. That’s what gave us a chance. We forced them to convert field goals.”
“We just needed [PSU senior placekicker Collin Wagner] to miss one more, and then we really would have had a chance,” Golden added.
Royster, who finished with a career-high 187 yards, reeled off a 50-yard run in the first quarter that allowed Wagner to hit the first of his five field goals.
Penn State freshman quarterback Rob Bolden, who made just his fourth career start, passed for 223 yards without turning the ball over. Temple’s plan was to force Bolden to make mistakes, but he remained calm, senior free safety Jaiquawn Jarrett said.
“Rob Bolden is a great young player,” Jarrett said. “He showed a lot of poise and executed when his team needed him to step up … [The Owls wanted to] make him beat us – make a freshman quarterback beat us.”
Temple failed to record a drive longer than three minutes, 13 seconds during the game. Comparatively, Penn State produced three drives of five minutes or more. The Owls’ inability to keep the offense on the field wore down their defense, players said.
“The [defense] played a hell of a game, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they were tired,” Stewart said. “We had a lot of three-and-outs, and we needed long drives to get them their rest. You also need long drives to wear down the other defense.”
“We got tired, but we stuck with them,” Jarrett added. “We know our offense is going to pull through in the long run for us so we just keep fighting.”
Senior punter Jeff Wathne pinned Penn State within its own 5-yard line on two separate punts. However, Penn State would go on to score on both of those drives, something that stuck out to Golden.
“That’s the biggest thing of the game. We let them out a couple of times after pinning them deep,” Golden said. “You have to give them credit, they’re an excellent football team … they played really hard, and they were physical. They made more plays than we did in the end.”
In the past four games against the Nittany Lions, the Owls had been outscored, 154-9, and out-rushed, 903 yards to 82. The last time that Temple defeated Penn State was 1941. Since then, the Owls had lost 35 straight games against their interstate foe before Saturday’s game. Despite the recent lopsided history between the two teams, the Owls were not content with merely competing, Golden said.
“There are no moral victories anymore,” Golden said. “We came up here with the intent to win. I don’t know if anybody else thought that coming into it, but I know that the 105 [players] and the 12 or so coaches came up here with the intent to win. We really believed we were going to win.”
The Owls stay on the road this week as they travel to West Point, N.Y., to play Army on Saturday. The Cherry and White must move on from this game before then, Golden said.
“By the time we get back to Philadelphia, we have to let [the loss] go,” Golden said. “We can’t lose twice because of this.”
Kyle Gauss can be reached at email@example.com.