Redshirt-junior Praise Martin-Oguike forces a fumble against senior running back Breon Allen in the Owls’ 20-10 victory. Donald Otto | TTN
Sixteen years ago, Devin Scott took the field against the Hokies.
The former Temple quarterback joined a makeshift bunch, a team that had lost six straight games while featuring 10 first-time starters.
The squad, which had lost 26 straight conference road games, entered No. 14 Virginia Tech’s homecoming at Lane Stadium as a 35 1/2 point underdog.
The Owls squeaked out a victory against the Hokies that day, and had failed to beat a team ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 until this past Saturday.
Tyler Matakevich, then a 6-year-old all-star catcher in Connecticut, hadn’t heard of Temple and had no way of knowing it would be the team’s lone win of that magnitude during the next 16 seasons.
However, as the leading tackler in the 20-10 upset win against the No. 21-ranked East Carolina that ended the drought on the rainy day at Lincoln Financial Field, Matakevich and his defense capitalized on the conditions.
“We knew it was going to be wet, [the ball] would be slippery,” the defensive captain said. “We knew we could create turnovers like this … We were just swarming to the ball, and we just started punching at the ball.”
The defense forced five fumbles, and helped keep East Carolina to 10 points – 24.6 points less than its average headed into the game.
I thought they went out there and did exactly what they needed to do,” coach Matt Rhule said. “We kept preaching to the kids, ‘When you try to force fumbles, you make fumbles.’ I thought they played with confidence.”
As for the weather conditions, Rhule made the necessary adjustments during the days prior in practice in order to be prepared for a rainy game.
“We like to spread it out, but we saw the weather report and said, ‘You know what, we better make a decision here,’” Rhule said. “I think all of us knew the weather and what it was, and it was cold, but that’s sometimes part of playing in this conference.
Offensively, Temple struggled to hold onto the football, fumbling the ball four times and recovering each one.
The Owls also failed to generate scoring drives, but effectively kept the Pirates’ high-powered offense on the sideline during the second half, taking up 16 minutes, 25 seconds of possession during the half, while protecting a 10-point lead.
For Rhule, seeing his quarterback protect the football played an operative factor in reversing his team’s two-game losing skid.
“P.J. was awesome. … He understood what we were doing as a team,” Rhule said. “He got us in the right play a lot, we took some things off his shoulders. When we were up 14-0 I said, ‘Listen, if you don’t turn the ball over we’ll win this game.’”
Walker, who has thrown nine interceptions on the year, five of which came in the last two games, has spent time in practice focusing on avoiding turnovers.
“I’m just trying to be smart with the football,” Walker said. “Some of those [interceptions] were just bad decisions, and some of them were just overthrew a receiver or underthrew a receiver. … Protecting the football is something I need to get better with and I’m going to keep working at it.”
At 5-3 (3-2 American Athletic Conference), the Owls are one win away from evading a losing season, which would result in an automatic bowl bid, the first of Rhule’s head coaching career.
Now that his squad is only one win away from the feat, Rhule has allowed himself to think about the possibility of a sixth win.
“I’m OK talking about six because it’s the next one,” Rhule said. “I’d really like to win Friday against a team I have a lot of respect for. … I watched [Memphis] take [the University of Mississippi] down to the wire. … So I’m going to talk about six because I want to have our team ready to play a really good Memphis team on Friday night.”
EJ Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on twitter @ejsmitty17