With just one minute and 11 seconds left in the game, East Carolina senior quarterback Holton Ahlers scrambled left and found junior receiver Jaylen Johnson on the opposite side of the field for a 38-yard touchdown. ECU drove 89 yards in eight plays to take a 49-46 lead over the Owls.
Temple Football (3-9, 1-7 The American Athletic Conference) was defeated 49-46 by East Carolina University (7-5, 4-4 The American) on Temple’s Senior Day Saturday afternoon at Lincoln Financial Field. The Owls went toe-to-toe with The American’s second-best average yards-per-play squad in ECU, but in the end, the Pirates’ explosive offense proved to be too potent for Temple to handle.
The Owls and Pirates exchanged blows throughout all four quarters in a game that was unusually dominated by both squads’ offenses. Warner broke the record for the most completions by a Temple quarterback in a season with 45 during the contest, and his freshman year campaign ended with a career-high 527-yard and five-touchdown performance.
“I’m excited about the growth that still needs to take place in E.J.,” said head coach Stan Drayton. “There’s still a high ceiling for E.J., he’s nowhere near the potential I know this kid has within him.”
Warner entered halftime with 311 yards passing, nearly doubling his 160 passing yards from the entire game against the University of Cincinnati (9-3, 6-2 The American) on Nov. 19, in which the Owls lost 23-3.
The freshman capped off a nine-play, 54-yard drive in the first quarter with an accurate pass in the back of the endzone to redshirt junior receiver Amad Anderson Jr. who made a catch between defenders. Anderson Jr. finished the game with six catches for 91 yards. Warner’s poise and well-placed passes early on created opportunities for his receivers to make plays in the open field.
“I’ve always had confidence in myself,” said freshman quarterback E.J. Warner. “Believing in ourselves, going out and doing our jobs we could do anything we want to.”
Warner’s longest touchdown of the day came with just less than eight minutes left in the second quarter when he found redshirt junior tight end Jordan Smith for a 40-yard touchdown. Smith also made a 38-yard touchdown in the third quarter on a similar play and his two-point conversion to redshirt-junior tight end David Martin-Robinson was successful.
Graduate receiver Jose Barbon, who has been the Owls’ biggest target all season, played well again today, bringing in 13 catches for 160 yards and finishing the season with 910 receiving yards. The entire offense was ultimately involved in the game, as seven different Temple receivers made multiple catches and four scored touchdowns.
At the start of the second half, Warner looked like the quarterback that fans saw against Cincinnati, throwing an interception to junior cornerback Malik Fleming after jogging outside the pocket for several seconds. This led to a touchdown from Pirates’ sophomore running back Keaton Mitchell, bringing ECU to a 35-24 lead.
The Pirates have one of the most big-play oriented offenses in the country, and it showed against the Owls. Graduate wide receiver Isaiah Winstead added one receiving touchdown to his season total of eight, while Mitchell ran for his sixth-straight 100-yard rushing game.
ECU’s Mitchell had 300 total yards and four touchdowns in the game. Mitchell ranked first in the nation with 7.2 rushing yards per carry entering the contest, and he further expanded his lead with a 49-yard rushing touchdown with one minute and 51 seconds left in the first quarter. Mitchell used his game-breaking speed to outrun the entire Temple defense on the touchdown, a trend that continued in all four quarters.
Temple’s tackling performance was not their worst this season, but the Owls didn’t get off their blocks to attack Mitchell until he was several yards down the field. Even in the receiving game, the Owls utilized strong open-field tackles to stall many potential gains for the Pirates, yet blown coverage contributed to Temple missing some easy stops. Senior safety Jalen Ware led the Owls with seven tackles and one pass breakup.
Mitchell’s elusiveness kept ECU in the game. He bailed out a dropped snap by ECU’s Ahlers by taking a short outlet pass 73 yards for a touchdown and showcased his big-play ability that no Temple defender had the speed to contain.
The Pirates’ big plays impacted the game the most. Temple’s well-orchestrated drives were followed by long plays by ECU. After Temple’s Warner’s touchdown completion to Smith, ECU’s junior wide receiver Jsi Hatfield took the subsequent kickoff return 97 yards for a touchdown, emphasizing the explosivity of the Pirates’ squad.
Temple officially finished the season with a 3-9 record, missing bowl eligibility for third consecutive season.
“I’m really proud of our young men,” Drayton said. “They put respect back on this program.”
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