Sophomore placekicker Brandon McManus’ field goal sealed a win against Villanova.
Once again, the Mayor’s Cup came down to a kick.
Last year, faithful Temple fans watched in awe as the football team lost to Villanova on a last-second field goal. The Wildcats would go on to win the Football Subdivision’s National Championship. This year, however, the Owls reaped the benefits of a game-winning field goal as sophomore placekicker Brandon McManus nailed a 43-yarder to give the Cherry and White a 25-22 lead.
Sophomore safety Justin Gildea returned a fumble for a touchdown on the ensuing kickoff to advance the score to 31-24 and give the Owls the win.
Two minutes earlier, after a fumble by junior quarterback Chester Stewart that led to a 41-yard field goal by Villanova sophomore placekicker Nick Yako, the trophy appeared to be headed back to Radnor Township.
But, like most rivalry games, there was still some excitement to be had.
McManus’ final kick was clutch, but it was also only one of many. Trailing 14-7, McManus connected on a 53-yard field goal with 15 seconds remaining in the first half to bring the Owls within four points. McManus’ field goal was the second-longest in program history behind Don Bitterlich’s 56-yarder in 1975.
Following a half in which Villanova senior quarterback completed 14-of-15 passes, the Owls were lucky to enter the half down one score. In the second half, the Owls look considerably different, Villanova coach Andy Talley said.
“I thought that we played better than they did in the first half,” Talley said. “Then suddenly they woke up and played a strong second half and made the game a topsy-turvy game.”
“We started to calm down and play with a little bit more poise [in the second half],” Temple coach Al Golden said.
Following a McManus 44-yarder in the third quarter, which brought the Owls within one point, senior quarterback Chris Whitney hit junior wide receiver Norman White with a perfectly thrown floater on the first play of the fourth quarter to put the Wildcats up, 21-13.
Once again, the Owls answered back with a McManus field goal, this time from 40 yards.
Early in the fourth quarter, Stewart missed senior wide receiver Michael Campbell, who was wide open in the end zone and then fumbled the snap on the next play. Luckily for Stewart – and the Owls for that matter – the signal caller got another shot in the fourth quarter when he found Campbell wide-open on a similar play.
He didn’t miss.
By connecting with Campbell on the 62-yard scoring play, Stewart put his team up, 22-21, with 4:07 remaining in regulation. After forcing Villanova to go three-and-out, the Owls started to run the clock down before Stewart botched a handoff. The Wildcats recovered the fumble and, following a video-replay that confirmed the play, took over on their own 22-yard line with 2:17 remaining in the game.
That set up Yako’s kick which subsequently set up Temple’s drive and McManus’ game-winning kick.
Stewart finished with a career-high 200 yards on 16-of-27 passing. Stewart’s ability to bounce back from his mistakes was even more impressive than his stats, Golden said.
“Obviously, [Stewart] won the game for us, and I was excited for that,” Golden said. “He did show a lot of poise and a lot of maturity. We had a quarterback that won in the two-minute drill. This time he did it after he made a critical error.”
Campbell finished with eight catches for 127 yards, both career-highs. Over the offseason, Golden brought in a number of receivers to add to the program’s depth. Campbell responded well to the extra competition, Stewart said.
“[Campbell] had a great offseason,” Stewart said. “He’s so much more confident now. I talk to him before every game. I tell him that there aren’t many defensive backs out here that can stick with him … Once he’s going, he’s going to make big plays.”
Despite the Wildcats playing at a lower level than the Owls, the outcome of the game held plenty of significance, Golden said.
“This is becoming a tradition,” Golden said. “There are a lot of irrelevant games in college football this weekend. This is not one of them … We beat champions. It’s hard to beat champions and you could just tell all night. You have to knock the champion out.”
After being benched in favor of sophomore running back Matt Brown, sophomore running back Bernard Pierce was held in check for the most part, and compiled 75 yards on 20 carries without finding the end zone. Brown finished with 54 yards on 10 carries.
The total attendees – 32,193 fans filled Lincoln Financial Field to watch the game – marked the second-most during Temple’s tenure at the Linc.
The Owls start their Mid-American Conference on Thursday as they host the defending conference champion Central Michigan Chippewas. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
Kyle Gauss can be reached at email@example.com.