Near the back line of the cherry-colored end zone with five white diamonds spelling ‘Temple,’ Ventell Bryant stood with his hands on his helmet as fireworks exploded in the night sky above Lincoln Financial Field Saturday.
Instead of celebrating the go-ahead touchdown catch in the fourth quarter against Notre Dame, the then-No. 9 team in the AP Top 25 poll, the redshirt-freshman wide receiver was lamenting a dropped pass from junior quarterback P.J. Walker.
After Saturday’s 24-20 loss to the Fighting Irish—the team’s first of the season—the then-No. 21 Owls said they came up one play short.
“We’re not here to lose, and they made one more play,” coach Matt Rhule said. “So we’re going to fight, scratch, claw to make sure we don’t lose anymore.”
The Owls (7-1, 4-0 American Athletic Conference) totaled six penalties for 79 yards—their third highest penalty yards in 2015—including four pass interference calls that resulted in automatic first downs for Notre Dame.
One play before the Owls’ lone turnover, a Walker interception with 1:08 left in the game, Temple was flagged for a 15-yard, personal foul penalty that turned a third-and-two into a third-and-17.
“Penalties killed us on both sides of the ball,” Walker said. “We can’t win games if we are going to have a lot of penalties. … We have to play smart.”
The Owls’ defense forced two red-zone interceptions from Notre Dame redshirt-freshman quarterback DeShone Kizer but allowed 467 yards of total offense and 20 first downs.
The unit walked onto the field with less than five minutes remaining to preserve a 20-17 lead. Notre Dame proceeded to travel 75 yards on six plays in 2:36 to take the lead on junior wide receiver Will Fuller’s game-winning touchdown catch.
“We knew how we matched up against them,” redshirt-junior defensive lineman Praise Martin-Oguike said. “We should have won the game. … It came down to who made the last play.”
Fuller got behind senior cornerback Tavon Young and Kizer zipped the pass to the leaping wide receiver in the right corner of the end zone before redshirt-senior safety Will Hayes could make a play on the ball.
“It was definitely a play we should have had,” sophomore defensive back Sean Chandler said. “It was on us. It was nothing they did. They weren’t just way better than us.”
The Fighting Irish totaled four plays of 30-or-more yards, including a 45-yard catch-and-run on third down by freshman tight end Alize Jones on the team’s game-winning drive.
Notre Dame was 6-for-14 on third down, the second-highest conversion rate allowed by Temple’s defense this season and the second time this season the Owls allowed their opponent to convert more than four third downs.
“It was definitely disappointing,” senior linebacker Tyler Matakevich said. “We had them. It was on us.”
Despite having fewer first downs, total yards and third down conversions, Bryant said the wrong team was victorious Saturday night.
“To be honest, I felt like we could have won the game,” Bryant said. “It was unfortunate that we lost.”
The Owls, who suffered their first loss since a 14-6 defeat against Cincinnati Nov. 29, 2014, remain in first place in The American with a 4-0 record.
With four conference games remaining, Temple holds a two-game lead over Cincinnati and South Florida. The Owls’ will travel to Tampa, Florida to play the Bulls Nov. 14.
“Our goal is to win a conference championship,” Matakevich said. “At the end of the day, that game has no effect on that.”
Michael Guise can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @Michael_Guise.