After Greg Ward Jr. cut to his left, all Tyler Matakevich could do was watch from his knees.
The junior quarterback juked the senior linebacker at the Temple 47-yard line and raced down the sideline of John O’Quinn Field—past three Owls on his way to a 47-yard touchdown in Houston’s 23-14 win against Temple in the American Athletic Conference’s inaugural conference championship game Saturday at TDECU Stadium.
“He is one heck of a player,” Matakevich said of Ward. “We knew how good he was. We played against him, and he keeps the plays alive with his feet. Coach Snow put us in the perfect situations, and we just missed the play.”
Ward finished the game with a game-high 148 yards rushing and two touchdowns. He also added 88 yards passing on 11 completions.
It was the fourth time Ward rushed for 100 or more yards this season.
“When the guy is a great player, he’s a great player, and he’s hard to defend,” Rhule said.
Coming into the game, the Owls were allowing 117.3 yards rushing per game. Houston totaled 233 yards on 40 carries Saturday. The Cougars were without senior running back Kenneth Farrow, who did not play because of an ankle injury.
“It’s definitely frustrating,” Matakevich said. “We have to sit down, look at the film and get ready for the bowl.”
After allowing 17 points and 210 yards of total offense in the first half, the Owls’ defense held the Cougars to seven points and 129 yards of total offense in the final 30 minutes of play.
The Owls’ also held the Cougars to zero third down conversions in the second half after allowing Houston to convert 5-of-10 in the first half.
“We don’t quit,” Matakevich said. “We could have packed it up and called it a day when we were down. That’s now who we are.
Matakevich said Saturday’s loss hurt, especially after all the senior linebacker has endured while on the football team.
“We’ve been through so much as a team, and it sucks to come all this way and come up short,” Matakevich said. “One or two plays and we are in the game—we were in it in the second half, but it’s just frustrating.”
Besides the defensive struggles in the first half, the Owls were plagued by turnovers.
Junior quarterback P.J. Walker threw his seventh interception of 2015 on the fourth play from scrimmage Saturday when he was pressured by Houston senior linebacker Elandon Roberts.
“The Mike [linebacker] added, and the mike came at B gap so I think [redshirt-sophomore offensive lineman] Brian Carter had to bounce back, but he didn’t,” Walker said. “And when he didn’t, I got pressure on my left. I tried to spin out of it. I saw Robby [Anderson]. I thought I could get the ball over.”
On the Owls’ next possession Anderson fumbled the football after Roberts ripped the ball from the redshirt-senior wide receiver’s arms at the Cougars’ 12 yard line.
The Owls’ were on the Cougars side of the field seven times Saturday and scored on three of those possessions.
“We had a chance to catch some balls down in the red zone, and they made some pass break ups, and we had some miscues,” Rhule said. “It was really loud … but we couldn’t make the plays to win the game.”
The Cougars were on the Owls’ side of the 50-yard line four time Saturday, and Houston scored on three of those possessions, including two touchdowns.
“There are a couple plays you have to make to score in the red zone to win the game, and we weren’t able to do that,” Rhule said. “They did.”
Michael Guise can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Michael_Guise