PISCATAWAY, N.J. – Rutgers had less than two minutes, no timeouts and 72 yards to make up a four-point deficit. The Scarlet Knights did it with 35 seconds to spare.
Temple (1-8, 0-5 American Athletic Conference) let another late lead slip away as the Owls fell to Rutgers (5-3, 2-2 The American) 23-20 on Saturday. Temple had a chance to put the game away on a fourth-and-1 from the opponent’s 28-yard line, but junior running back Kenny Harper was stopped short of the marker.
“We had a chance to win that game, a game that they wanted to win,” coach Matt Rhule said. “It came down to about that much on fourth and one. We weren’t able to get that half yard. [We] put it back in their hands and they found a way to win at the end. We’ll take this, we’ll learn from it. I think all the players understand how much better we’re getting. At the same time, we have to get that half yard if we want to win.”
Freshman quarterback P.J. Walker threw for 203 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Rutgers’ much-maligned quarterback, junior Gary Nova, threw for 371 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions.
“He was a little shaken at times,” Rhule said. “A couple third downs, he just took off running when there wasn’t really any pressure. At the end of the day, he moved the ball when it mattered. He made some big throws for us. He rebounds, and he rebounded from the second pick. I thought he played well and this will be a good game for him to learn from.”
“It hurt a lot,” Walker said. “But we’re all learning from it. We’re just taking it all in and making sure it never happens again next year or the next three games.”
Temple received the ball to start the game. Walker threw an interception on the second play from scrimmage. Rutgers then turned the ball over on downs. Both teams traded punts after lackluster drives.
The Owls began the next drive at their own 8-yard line. They quickly moved the ball down the field, culminating in a 26-yard touchdown pass from Walker to sophomore wide receiver Robby Anderson. Freshman kicker Nick Visco missed the extra point. Rutgers answered with a field goal, making the score 6-3 Temple.
The Owls punted on the ensuing drive, pinning the Scarlet Knights at their own 1-yard line. Rutgers’ senior punter Nick Marsh shanked the ensuing punt, giving Temple good field position. The 36-yard drive was capped off with a four-yard pass from Walker to junior running back Kenneth Harper. Rutgers quickly drove down the field, but missed a 40-yard field goal as the half ended.
The second half started with drives ending in punts for both teams. Rutgers then drove quickly and scored their first touchdown, a four-yard pass from Nova to junior fullback Michael Burton. Junior kicker Kyle Federico missed the extra point.
When the fourth quarter began, Rutgers had the ball at their own 37 and punted it. Walker threw an interception on the second play of the drive, and Nova hit sophomore wide receiver Levonte Carroo for a 34-yard touchdown on the first play of the drive.
Temple responded with a 62-yard drive ending with a 25-yard touchdown run by Harper, his ninth of the season, making it 20-16 Temple. Rutgers drove 65 yards in five plays, but freshman running back Justin Goodwin lost a fumble at Temple’s 15-yard line. The fumble was forced by sophomore defensive tackle Matt Ioannidis and recovered by senior linebacker Blaze Caponegro.
Temple drove down the field, taking 7:01 off the clock before turning it over on downs with 1:50 to go. Rutgers took over with no timeouts at their own 28-yard line and scored on a pass from Nova to Carroo with 35 seconds remaining. Temple took over, but senior wide receiver Ryan Alderman fumbled after catching the ball on the first play from scrimmage.
Evan Cross can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @EvanCross.