Temple Football (3-9, 1-7 American Athletic Conference) lost its season finale to East Carolina University (7-5, 4-4 American Athletic Conference) 49-46 on Nov. 26 at Lincoln Financial Field. Despite another historic day from freshman quarterback E.J. Warner, Temple could not secure a win against the Pirates.
Warner and the passing attack put together a historic performance and the Owls’ offense ended their season on a high note by working all of the field, whether it was short, intermediate or deep routes. Temple produced their second-highest point total of the season in the loss, with Warner accumulating 527 passing yards and five touchdowns with only one interception.
Warned surpassed multiple records he set against Houston, including throwing for 486 yards through the air in the loss to the Cougars. He is the first player in Temple football history to record at least 500 passing yards in one game, and sat at 26th in the nation in passing yards at the end of Week 12 despite not playing against Duke University and appearing for a half against Lafayette College.
Warner took advantage of ECU’s defense by finding his receivers in the zones that defenses tend to allow. Warner was quick and accurate with his delivery and also showed increased velocity on some of his throws.
His six-yard touchdown pass to redshirt junior Amad Anderson Jr. with a little more than 14 minutes left in the second quarter was aimed only where Anderson could catch the ball. The Pirates’ defense covered it well, but Warner’s throw was incredibly accurate.
Temple wide receivers improved from the previous week against Houston by creating separation from the ECU defensive backs. Redshirt senior Adonicas Sanders missed the final game of his college career due to a knee injury, but Anderson made his return to the lineup. With Sanders out, Anderson and redshirt freshman Zae Baines stepped up, contributing more than 70 receiving yards and a touchdown each.
“It’s been fun working with them every single week in practice,” Warner said about Anderson and Baines during his post-game press conference. “Every single rep in practice, just getting better.”
Collectively, Temple’s receivers were open all game. They ran a variety of routes that found the soft spots in ECU’s zone defense and when ECU decided to play man defense, the receivers were able to get separation.
Graduate wide receiver Jose Barbon finished the game with 13 receptions and 160 receiving yards, setting the program’s single-season record for most 100-yard receiving games. Barbon ran his routes well and caught the ball when it was accurately thrown to him, a trend that was not always common in past games.
Barbon also turned originally short gains into long receptions, finishing the game with 60 yards after the catch. In the second quarter, Barbon turned a ten-yard gain into a 29-yard reception after breaking a tackle and picking up an additional 19 yards.
Temple ended the game with 193 yards after the catch and the receivers were able to break tackles and gain extra yardage that would put the team in a better position to score.
“Those are the hidden yards that win ball games,” said head coach Stan Drayton at his post-game press conference. “Those can really set you up for a lot of victories in the future.”
Temple’s tight ends were effective by working outside the tackles, finding the right seams and making catches when necessary. Redshirt junior tight end David Martin-Robinson and redshirt junior tight end Jordan Smith combined for 178 receiving yards and three touchdowns in arguably their best performance of the season.
Smith continuously beat man coverage all game including a touchdown that on similar routes toward the deep left sideline. Martin-Robinson, similarly to the receivers, got open on short and intermediate routes, beating zone coverages.
Warner’s performance earned him a spot on the AAC’s Weekly Honor Roll.
Defensively, the Owls were unable to stop the rushing attack led by the Pirates’ sophomore running back Keaton Mitchell. Mitchell rushed for 222 yards and three touchdowns while also bringing in two catches for 78 yards and a touchdown.
ECU’s offense reached 534 yards of total offense and Temple only had one sack on ECU senior quarterback Holton Ahlers. It was an unusual performance for a Temple defense that had Warner and the offense possessing the ball for long periods of time. It was still a fitting ending for an Owls team that is so close to winning close games, yet unable to do so.
“We had a lot of games where we were one play away here, one play away here,” Warner said. “Just basically building this culture to avoid those plays, those mistakes that we made that hurt us in those games.”