For more than 57 minutes, the Owls kept Notre Dame junior wide receiver Will Fuller from scoring.
With 2:09 remaining in the game, redshirt-freshman quarterback DeShone Kizer found Fuller in the back right corner of the end zone for the game-winning touchdown, giving Notre Dame, the No. 9 team in the AP Top 25 Poll, a 24-20 win against No. 21 Temple (7-1, 4-0 American Athletic Conference) Saturday night at Lincoln Financial Field.
“It was just a good play,” senior cornerback Tavon Young said. “We could have did things better to stop them, but they just made a play.”
In front of a crowd of 69,280, the highest attendance at Lincoln Financial Field in Temple’s history, the Fighting Irish drove 75 yards on six plays in just under three minutes to take a 24-20 lead with two minutes remaining in the game.
Following the touchdown, the Owls took possession from their own 24-yard line. The Temple offense drove 23 yards before a personal foul pushed the team back to the 32-yard line facing a third-and-seventeen.
With 1:08 remaining in the game and facing the long third down, junior quarterback P.J. Walker threw a pass in the direction of redshirt-senior wide receiver John Christopher. Notre Dame redshirt-junior cornerback KeiVarae Russell dove in front of the pass, picking it off to seal the Fighting Irish’s victory.
“Couldn’t be prouder of our football as I told them,” coach Matt Rhule said. “I thought they fought, scratched, clawed, made some mistakes, but I think it proved that we’re a really good football team. One of the better teams in the country. Notre Dame’s a great team.”
Before Fuller’s touchdown, Temple took a 20-17 lead when sophomore kicker Austin Jones connected on a 36-yard field goal with 4:45 remaining in the fourth quarter.
“He nailed it today,” Rhule said. “I thought he was great.”
With eight minutes left in the game, Notre Dame senior safety Elijah Shumate was disqualified after he was called for a targeting penalty on a hit to redshirt-junior wide receiver Romond Deloatch on third-and-goal from the nine-yard line.
Four plays after the penalty, which gave the Owls an automatic first down, junior running back Jahad Thomas tied the game at 17 with a one-yard rush on fourth-and-goal.
“Coach Rhule just told me to stay in the end zone one way or another, so I just did what I had to do,” Thomas said. “And I put my foot on the ground, and I scored a touchdown.”
The Owls intercepted Kizer, who ran 17 times for 143 yards—including a 79-yard touchdown run in the second quarter—twice in the red zone Saturday night.
Redshirt-junior defensive lineman Praise Martin-Oguike and senior linebacker Tyler Matakevich both intercepted Kizer in the second quarter.
“We know that we have one of the best red zone defenses in the country, and once they get in the red zone, our job is to not let them score and give our offense the ball,” Young said. “Once they got close, we knew that we had to lock in and get the ball.”
The Fighting Irish finished with 467 yards of total offense and 168 yards rushing. It was the most total yards allowed the Owls have allowed since Cincinnati accumulated 557 yards in the Owls’ 34-26 victory Sept. 12.
“Being a defensive guy, we made too many mistakes,” Matakevich said. “We’ll take a look at it and get it fixed.”
Notre Dame senior running back C.J. Prosise ran for 25 yards. Fuller had five catches for 46 yards and one touchdown.
“We gave up a couple big plays and that’s unfortunate,” Rhule said. “We couldn’t run the ball. They hurt us with bubble screens and perimeter plays.”
Saturday marked the first time the Owls’ defense allowed two rushing touchdowns in a game this season. It was also the first time Temple allowed more than one rushing touchdown and more than 100 yards on the ground since Temple’s 30-13 loss to Penn State Nov. 4, 2014.
Walker completed 13 of his 30 pass attempts for 188 yards. He threw one touchdown and one interception.
Thomas finished with 82 yards rushing, and redshirt-freshman wide receiver Ventell Bryant had a career-high 91 yards receiving before leaving the game with 5:12 remaining in the fourth quarter after injuring his head on a catch.
Mark McCormick can be reached at email@example.com. or on Twitter @MarkJMcCormick