The football team still managed a win versus Army despite losing freshman back Pierce.
The football team’s 27-13 win against Army on Saturday may have been ugly, and maybe the Owls won because the Black Knights sent a few gifts their way, but the team should get some serious credit for how it responded to a key loss during the game.
Freshman running back Bernard Pierce suffered a left shoulder injury after getting hit on a routine play in the second quarter. Pierce lay on the field for about 15 minutes before being carried off on a stretcher.
“It was a downfall for us losing Bernard. He was the guy that was running hard, and he is only a freshman,” senior defensive lineman Andre Neblett said. “He was carrying the offense and doing a good job.”
“It caught me off guard,” senior linebacker Alex Joseph added. “For some reason, I thought he was kind of indestructible.”
If Pierce had not been injured, it would be safe to say he would have had another 100-yard game with a touchdown or two. When he left with the injury, he already had 65 rushing yards and a touchdown.
While it is unknown how long Pierce will be out, the way Temple’s offense responded to his absence defined the game and could potentially define the season.
Without Pierce, the offense just did not look very good. In the second half, the team managed just 19 total yards of offense and one touchdown. Army junior linebacker/defensive end Josh McNary, who is only 6 feet 1 inch and 225 pounds, absolutely bullied the Temple offensive line, whose smallest lineman is 6 feet 4 inches and 300 pounds.
“He has a high motor, and he has a lot of moves,” redshirt senior offensive lineman Devin Tyler said.
McNary sacked redshirt junior quarterback Vaughn Charlton four times, one of which was a yard away from being a safety. As the Army television commercials say, “There’s strong, and then there’s Army strong,” and McNary definitely played at a higher level than his larger counterparts.
Temple’s offense struggled mightily sans Pierce, but the unit had two things on its side.
One was luck. Army is a service academy famous for its strict decorum and discipline, but the Black Knights played undisciplined football and gave the Owls a ton of breaks.
In Temple’s opening drive, Army committed five penalties that led to Pierce’s touchdown. In the fourth quarter, coach Al Golden challenged a play that officials originally ruled an interception. The officials overturned the call and ruled defensive pass interference against Army. Instead of a Charlton interception, the Owls got the ball back, and through instant replay, the play went from being a huge blunder to a huge break.
“They got the right call, and that’s all that matters,” Golden said.
The challenge also bailed out Charlton. Though the play eventually went Temple’s way, Charlton made a poor decision to throw a wobbly floater of a pass with two Army defenders hanging onto him. Like I said, the Owls had luck on their side.
The other factor was the constant of this team: the defense. The unit again played a solid game, limiting the Black Knights to 13 points. Joseph recovered an Army fumble at the Black Knights’ 1-yard line, which allowed sophomore running back Kee-ayre Griffin to easily score the game-clinching touchdown.
While it’s great that Temple has won four straight games, if the team has to go for an extended period of time without Pierce, its offense could be in serious trouble. Some post-Pierce drives featured the pass more than the run, a deviation from the formula that helped the team win its three games before Army.
Though the running game struggled without Pierce, the team has to believe Griffin and senior back Lamar McPherson can pick up where Pierce left off. Charlton simply has not proven he can carry the offense, as there are times he seems determined to throw the ball when he should hold onto it.
With or without Pierce, the Owls need to stick to the game plan that has them winning – keeping the ball on the ground, limiting mistakes and playing solid defense. If they do this, they should be able to win some games and hold onto their top spot in the Mid-American Conference standings.
Brian Dzenis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.