P.J. Walker had completed 15 of 29 passes for 162 yards when the Owls took possession at their own 29-yard line facing a six-point deficit with less than six minutes remaining in Thursday night’s game against East Carolina at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium in Greenville, North Carolina.
On what would be the game-winning drive, the junior quarterback connected on four of his six pass attempts for 88 yards, leading a seven-play, 71-yard drive—which concluded with a 23-yard touchdown pass to redshirt-senior wide receiver Robby Anderson—helping the Owls defeat East Carolina 24-14.
With the victory, the Owls (7-0, 4-0 American Athletic Conference), who were ranked No. 22 in this week’s AP Top 25 Poll, have jumped out to the best start in program history. The team has surpassed last season’s win total and tied last season’s conference win total.
After Temple started the game’s scoring in the first quarter with a field goal by sophomore kicker Austin Jones, East Carolina took a 7-3 lead on a one-yard rush from running back Chris Hairston with nine minutes left before halftime. It was the first touchdown the Owls’ defense allowed since the second quarter of the team’s’ 49-10 win against Tulane Oct. 10.
Junior running back Jahad Thomas reclaimed the Owls lead with a two-yard touchdown run with 2:59 left in the first half.
The East Carolina defense held Thomas, who came into Thursday night averaging 126 yards rushing per game, to 66 yards rushing on 20 carries. It was the third time this season Thomas did not rush for 100 yards or more.
However, Thomas found the end zone twice in the game—including a 14-yard rushing touchdown after Anderson’s late-game score to give the Owls a 24-14 lead and put the game out of reach. He now has 12 total touchdowns in 2015, 11 of which have come on the ground.
East Carolina quarterback Blake Kemp threw a seven-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Quay Johnson with 18 seconds remaining in the second quarter to give the Pirates a 14-10 lead heading into halftime.
The Pirates went into the break with 208 yards of total offense. After halftime, the Owls kept East Carolina off the scoreboard, holding the Pirates to 155 yards of total offense and forcing two turnovers, which included senior linebacker Tyler Matkevich’s fourth interception of the season.
Through seven games, the Owls have outscored their opponents 75-9 in the third quarter and 137-29 in the second half.
Walker was 19 of 35 for 250 passing yards and one touchdown. He connected with Anderson on eight passes for 125 yards and the go ahead touchdown.
It was the first time the wide receiver, who left the team last year due to academic issues, totaled 100 or more yards since he caught eight passes for 184 yards and two touchdowns Nov.16, 2014 in the Owls’ 39-36 loss to Central Florida.
Owen McCue and Michael Guise can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @TheTempleNews