Al Golden has been involved with college football for 20 years, save for a brief stint in the NFL. Yet he said he’d never been a part of a team that’s rallied behind a blocked punt.
Now he has.
After Kent State scored a third-quarter touchdown on a blocked punt, Temple tallied 18 unanswered points to top the Golden Flashes, 24-14, Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field.
“I bet you they haven’t had that around here in a long time,” Golden said. “Everybody kind of rallied around the player that made the mistake. … We went out on the next drive and responded. That’s why we do the team building.”
The win improved the Owls to 4-7 overall and 4-3 in the Mid-American Conference. It marks the first time since 1967 they’ve won four conference games. The Owls have the chance to finish with a winning conference record in their inaugural MAC season.
“Statistically, these are significant games,” Golden said. “If we couldn’t win the championship, to finish 5-3 in the conference in our first year would be significant.
The Owls had won three games earlier this season, but this one might have been their finest.
“This might be the first time we’ve played an entire game [without flaws],” Golden said.
The Owls’ defense limited the Golden Flashes to 124 total yards and picked off opposing quarterback Jon Brown four times, including three times in the fourth quarter. The Owls limited Eugene Jarvis, who entered the game as the nation’s fifth leading rusher, to just 66 yards, well below his 142.9 yard average.
“We knew if we stopped him early, they were going to take him out of the game,” defensive tackle Terrance Knighton said. “That was our goal – to hold him under 100 yards.”
The offense overcame its early struggles to total 375 yards, including 184 on the ground. Freshman Daryl Robinson rushed for 105 yards and sophomore Jason Harper added 79 yards and a touchdown.
Sophomore quarterback Vaughn Charlton passed for 191 yards and a touchdown, hitting sophomore Dy’Onne Crudup seven times for 85 yards and a touchdown. Charlton completed 18-of-27 passes without throwing an interception.
“What I was most pleased about, was [that] he understood the way the game was evolving,” Golden said. “He didn’t press or say ‘I got to make the play.’ He said, ‘You know what? The defense is playing well. We keep punting the ball and making them go long-field. We’re getting some turnovers and then I’ll just capitalize when my opportunities come.'”
The Owls scored on six of their nine trips to the red-zone.
On special teams, the Owls found a punt returner in freshman Delano Green, who returned five punts for 56 yards, including a 25-yard scamper. Kicker Jake Brownell booted four straight field goals after missing a 27-yard attempt on the Owls’ second drive.
After missing an 23-yarder against Penn State one week ago, Brownell had to re-earn kicking duties during practice last week. Brownell was grateful Golden stuck with him.
“For me, it was a big wake-up call,” Brownell said. “I did a lot of soul searching this week. I took a different approach this week. I was [ticked] off and I went out there with a lot of confidence in myself.
“It just means the world to me that Coach believes in me. Even when I miss those field goals, he stays with me. That just shows the confidence that he has in us.”
It was Brownell who ultimately iced the win for the Owls, hitting two fourth-quarter field goals, but the game didn’t start out so smooth.
The Owls began each of their first three possessions in Kent State territory, but failed to put any points on the board despite making two trips to the red-zone. The defense kept the Golden Flashes at bay, allowing just two first-quarter first downs.
The Golden Flashes got the best of Temple’s defense in the second quarter, as Brown made five straight passes to lead Kent State to the Temple 21-yard line. From there, Jarvis ran the ball into the end zone to hand the Golden Flashes a 7-0 lead.
Those were the highlights for Brown and Jarvis. Brown completed just one more pass and Jarvis never broke loose again.
On the Owls’ final possession of the half, Travis Shelton rushed for a 21-yard gain and Charlton completed all four of his passes, setting up a 27-yard field goal by Brownell. The Owls took a 7-3 deficit into the break.
Brownell hit a 30-yard field goal to begin the second half, making it a 7-6 ballgame.
But Coleman Lynn recovered a blocked punt in the Temple end zone, giving Kent State a 14-6 advantage.
Then the Owls’ rally began.
Behind Harper and Robinson, the Owls drove up the field on four plays. Harper rushed for tallies of 18, 22 and nine yards, the latter a touchdown. Robinson carried once for a 27-yard gain. The Owls missed a two-point conversion to tie the game, when Campbell stepped on the sideline while catching a pass from Robinson. Kent State kept a 14-12 lead.
Two possessions later, Charlton hit Crudup for a 20-yard touchdown to give the Owls’ an 18-14 lead. Again, they missed a two-point conversion, but with the play of the Owls’ defense, it didn’t matter.
Kent State failed to gain a first down the rest of the game, as its final three possessions ended in interceptions by Dominique Harris, Alex Joseph and Jaiquawn Jarrett.
The Owls can finish the season with five wins for the first time since 1990 Saturday if they beat Western Michigan on the road.
“You want to talk about being 5-3 in the conference and really being a ref’s whistle away from having six wins and being bowl eligible,” Golden said, referring to the Owls’ last-minute loss at Connecticut. “You think about that in year two. Think about what that means to all the people that have supported Temple University – not just by coming to the games, but monetarily – and all the people that stood by the program through the rough times. You think about what that means now. They can see it now. They can see the light a little bit.”
John Kopp can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.