In a game of endless penalties, dropped passes, blocked field goals, and of all things a botched extra point with 30 seconds left in regulation, Temple scraped out a huge 17-16 win over Syracuse to gain their first conference victory of the season.
The win also ended its 16-game losing streak to the Orangemen dating back to 1983 and their four-game losing streak, putting them at 2-4 on the season and an even 1-1 in conference play, in front of a joyous homecoming crowd of 17,220.
The teams totaled over 850 yards of offense (the Owls had 500 yards) and 23 penalties for 182 yards.
Up until the fourth quarter, the game’s deciding factor had been a 60-yard touchdown reception by Orangemen speed demon, Jamel Riddle.
However, the play that clinched it for the Owls was a jaw-dropping missed extra point by Orangemen kicker Collin Barber as the game came to a frantic end.
“I was ecstatic when that ball hit the goalpost,” said Temple coach Bobby Wallace.
“I think I jumped higher than I did when we won the national championship at Northern Alabama.”
Barber also missed two 27-yard attempts in the first half, which proved to be the difference in this game.
The kicking game also struggled for the Owls, as kicker Cap Poklemba had a field goal attempt blocked after the Owls had failed to score a touchdown from inside the 10-yard line early in the fourth quarter.
But a career day by quarterback Mike McGann and mercurial running back Tanardo Sharps put Temple over the hump.
And it was those two who connected on the Owls first touchdown of the game, when McGann drew an end around play-fake, rolling right and finding Sharps all alone on his way to a 65-yard touchdown reception that knotted the game, 10-10, with just over seven minutes left.
The game was for the most part a battle of field position, and following Sharps’ game tying score the defense forced a Syracuse punt.
On the ensuing drive, McGann found Makonne Fenton open down the middle on third down for a 52-yard TD reception.
Looking confident as ever, McGann picked apart a porous Orangemen secondary, connecting on 20-of-38 passes with 2 TD’s for 340 yards.
In three of his last four games he has avoided being intercepted and now seems to be throwing the ball downfield less tentatively.
“I thought it was shaky in the first half and outstanding in the second half,” said Wallace of McGann’s performance.
“I was pretty comfortable the whole game, I just wasn’t making throws,” said McGann who recorded his first ever 300-yard passing game.
After being stymied in the first half for just 46 total yards, Sharps came alive in the second half and finished with 169 total yards, moving into second place on Temple’s all-time rushing list.
“It feels good; really I didn’t know I had a chance to become number two until last week…this win feels better though,” Sharps said.
“Basically the key today was just having patience and whenever you had the opportunity to make a play, then take advantage.”
Temple stayed in the game throughout, due to stellar defensive play which contained the Orangemen running game and made timely stops, as Syracuse converted just 3-of-13 on third down situations.
Following an Owl fumble late in the third quarter, the defense responded on the very next play when Yazid Jackson recovered on a pump-fake by Orangemen quarterback RJ Anderson, intercepting him at the Temple 26 yard line.
“I felt all week long we could win the game. And it’s because I knew we were playing as good as football as this program has played in a long, long time,” Wallace said.
Hoping to avenge last season’s 45-3 mauling at the Carrier Dome, the Owls were aggressive from the start.
On their second drive, McGann connected with Sean Szarka for 42 yards, setting up Poklemba’s 37 yard field goal with eight minutes left.
On the subsequent kickoff, Wallace called for an onsides kick that Poklemba placed perfectly 15 yards downfield and into the hands of Sean Dillard, catching the Orangemen off-guard.
Unable to capitalize on that trick play, the Owls couldn’t sustain any other scoring drives against a defense that was last in the conference in points and yards allowed.
While the Orangemen had better luck moving the ball, they were shutdown in the red zone, where they could only muster one field goal.
“Special teams has been pretty good to us,” said Syracuse coach Paul Pasqualoni,”But the kicking game today, kind of hurt us a little bit.”
“We were lucky at the end, but I don’t think it was a lucky win,” Wallace said.
Jason Haslam can be reached at Jasonhaslam@yahoo.com.