Whenever a ball hits the ground during Temple’s practices, a defensive player is expected to pick it up.
The purpose of the habit is to emphasize swarming to the ball, which puts players in position to produce turnovers.
With 13 seconds remaining and the Owls (2-0) holding on to an eight-point lead in Saturday night’s 34-26 win against American Athletic Conference foe Cincinnati at Nippert Stadium, Tyler Matakevich found himself in the right place at the right time.
After Bearcats’ quarterback Gunner Kiel had his pass tipped, Matakevich made a diving catch to seal the Owls’ victory. It was Matakevich’s second interception on the day and the Owls’ fourth of the game.
The win gave the Owls’ their first 2-0 start since 2011—the last time the team went to a bowl game.
Although the Temple won the turnover margin 5-1 in the game, the Owls’ lone turnover almost proved costly.
With less than three minutes left in the game and a 34-26 lead, the Owls regained possession after a failed onside kick attempt by Cincinnati.
Junior running back Jahad Thomas fumbled the ball two plays later and gave Cincinnati one more opportunity to tie the game. The Bearcats drove down to the Temple five-yard line but Matakevich’s interception kept the Owls off the hook.
Thomas followed up his 135 yards rushing and two touchdowns in last week’s 27-10 victory against Penn State with a career-high 193 yards rushing and one touchdown. Thomas, who set a conference record with 342 all-purpose yards, returned the opening kickoff in the second half 100 yards for a touchdown.
It took a while for both offenses to get going in Saturday night’s contest. Temple broke the tie when sophomore Austin Jones hit a 40-yard field goal more than 13 minutes into the game.
The Bearcats began moving the chains early in the second quarter. Cincinnati totaled 211 yards yards in the first half, but the Owls’ defense stood their ground in the red zone, holding the Bearcats to two field goals.
Trailing 6-3 with 6:11 remaining, Thomas helped spark a 10-play-74-yard drive, which ate up nearly six minutes of clock. The junior running back tallied 32 yards rushing on the drive and totaled 88 of the team’s 117 yards of offense in the first half.
After Thomas got the Owls to the one-yard line on the ground, quarterback P.J. Walker lofted his first touchdown pass of the season to fullback Michael Felton to give the Owls a 10-7 lead heading into the half.
The drive mirrored the 12-play and 93-yard drive Temple used in the first half of last week’s game to take down the Nittany Lions.
Less than one minute after Thomas’s kickoff return touchdown, Cincinnati responded with an 89-yard touchdown pass from Kiel to wide receiver Mekale Mackey making it a 17-12 ball game after the Bearcats’ failed two-point conversion attempt.
On the Owls’ next possession, Thomas shined once again. The running back broke off a 56-yard touchdown run to widen the Owls’ lead back to double digits.
A Walker touchdown pass to Robby Anderson and another Jones field goal put the Owls up 34-12 with 14:56 remaining in the game.
Walker completed 13 of his 20 passing attempts for 81 yards and two touchdowns in the game. He has a 70 percent completion percentage through two games this season.
Owen McCue can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @Owen_McCue
Sophomore wide receiver Brodrick Yancy was carted off the field early in the second quarter after a collision with junior linebacker Avery Williams. Yancy signaled a thumbs up on his exit. After the game, Yancy had full movement in his arms and legs…Jones was three-for-three on field goal attempts on the day. The sophomore kicker is a perfect five-for-five on the season after a 59 percent conversion rate on field goal attempts last season…Redshirt-freshman wide receiver Ventell Bryant led the Owls in receiving for the second consecutive game. Bryant had two catches for 26 yards Saturday and two catches for 41 yards against Penn State.