Owls advance to conference championship game

While a light rain drizzled down on Lincoln Financial Field, the Owls stood took a moment to a celebrate under the lights.

Temple won the American Athletic Conference East Division after defeating Connecticut 27-3 Saturday night at Lincoln Financial Field.

The Owls (10-2, 7-1 The American) will face West Division champions Houston in The American’s inaugural conference championship game Dec. 5 in Houston at John O’Quinn Field at TDECU Stadium.

“Winning the East is a big deal for us,” coach Matt Rhule said. “I wanted to see us answer the call in big moments, and I thought we did that tonight.”

After South Florida defeated Central Florida 44-3 Thursday, the Owls needed to beat UConn to reach The American’s championship game. If Temple lost Saturday, the Bulls would have represented the East.

“We didn’t work hard all year just to get there,” senior linebacker Tyler Matakevich said. We’ll enjoy this tonight.”

The Owls’ defense did not allow an offensive touchdown for the second consecutive game, and the unit has allowed a combined 15 points in its past two contests after giving up 108 in its previous three games.

The Huskies, who totaled 138 yards of total offense, averaged 2.94 yards per play and totaled nine yards rushing. UConn came into Saturday’s contest averaging 135.1 yards rushing per game.

In the team’s 31-12 win against Memphis Nov. 21, the Owls allowed 232 yards of total offense after giving up 556 yards of total offense to South Florida in a 44-23 loss Nov. 14.

“Defensively, we’re very proud of the guys tonight,” Matakevich said. “We did a tremendous job stopping them, and it’s just an amazing feeling.”

Offensively, Temple outgained UConn 328-138 Saturday night.

Junior running back Jahad Thomas totaled 129 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 20 carries. Thomas finished the regular season with 1,198 yards rushing and 17 rushing touchdowns.

Junior quarterback P.J. Walker totaled 160 yards passing passing and one touchdown on 16 completions.

“Our offensive line, including our tight ends … did a real nice job,” Rhule said. “We ran power, we ran inside zone and those guys kept pushing. When a play wasn’t there, our [running] backs got up inside.”

On senior night, senior wideout Brandon Shippen led the Owls in yards receiving with 45 on four receptions. Matakevich finished with six solo tackles and contributed 1.5 tackles for a loss.

“I think just winning 10 games is a credit for our senior players,” Rhule said. “They can say they’re one of two teams to have ever done that. Having that trophy is an accomplishment, but we want to win the game next week.”

In Temple’s first two possessions of the game, Thomas ran for 42 yards on five attempts, including a nine-yard rushing touchdown to give the Owls an early 7-0 lead.

The Owls added a 20-yard field goal from sophomore kicker Austin Jones to lead 10-0 at halftime.

Temple’s two possessions in the third quarter shaved 10 minutes, 16 seconds off the clock, which resulted in 10 points and included a 6-yard touchdown reception by redshirt-junior wide receiver Romond Deloatch in the left corner of the end zone that extended the Owls lead to 20-0.

“P.J.’s a good quarterback,” Deloatch said. “I told him to throw it up, and I’m going to go get it. It’s not really a rocket science thing. It’s just something I’m good at. When the ball’s in the air, I’m just going to go get it.”

On Connecticut’s ensuing possession, the Huskies went 37 yards down the field into Temple territory for the first time since the end of the first quarter. Huskies junior quarterback Tim Boyle threw an interception to sophomore defensive back Sean Chandler for UConn’s second turnover of the game.  

With the win, Temple matched its first 10-win season since 1979 and will have a chance to win 11 games in a season for the first time in school history with a victory against Houston.

“We haven’t studied them yet,” Rhule said. “They’re really special on defense. We’ll just go through our normal week and go down to Houston and see what we can do.”

Mark McCormick can be reached at mark.mccormick@temple.edu.

LOOSE NOTES

On the last play of the game, senior defensive back Tavon Young and redshirt-senior wide receiver John Christopher, who sat out of the game due to injuries, came onto the field in the victory formation as Walker kneeled to secure the win their final home game as Owls.

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