EAST HARTFORD, Conn. – It wasn’t easy, or pretty, but Temple defeated Connecticut 17-14 in overtime on Saturday for the program’s first back-to-back wins in the Big East Conference in history.
Owls’ senior placekicker Brandon McManus kicked a game-winning 29-yard field goal on the Owls’ first possession in overtime after Huskies’ redshirt-junior placekicker Chad Christen missed a 28-yard field goal on UConn’s possession in overtime, his fourth miss of the game.
After the game, coach Steve Addazio called McManus the best placekicker in the country.
“There’s a lot of good kickers out there,” McManus said. “I accept what he says, but my guys did a great job out there. The field goal unit did a great job.”
The Owls were able to overcome an early two-score UConn lead and Huskies’ redshirt-sophomore quarterback Chandler Whitmer’s 293 passing yards. Owls’ senior running back Montel Harris rushed for 142 yards, the most against the UConn defense, and a touchdown.
“It was a lot about being patient,” Harris said. “They came out with tremendous heart and determination. We just knew that we had to hold on and make plays when we could.”
Redshirt-junior quarterback Chris Coyer hit sophomore wide receiver Jalen Fitzpatrick for a 15-yard touchdown with 19 seconds remaining in regulation to compete a 12-play, 72-yard, game-tying drive that sent the game into overtime.
“There was a lot of adversity on the road, but I’m proud of our team,” Addazio said. “I’m proud of the way we fought.”
Whitmer moved the ball quickly downfield against Temple’s defense in the first quarter.
Whitmer went 8 for 10 passing for 159 yards and two touchdowns on drives of 63, 66 and 63 yards, respectively. Touchdown passes of 15 yards to senior wide receiver Michael Smith and 42 yards to redshirt-senior tight end Ryan Griffin gave the Huskies an early two-score lead.
Temple’s offense couldn’t move the ball early against UConn’s No. 6 ranked defense in the country. The Owls gained 11 yards on nine plays in the first quarter, and rushed for negative yards.
But Temple pulled within one score by winning a crucial second quarter. The Owls held the Huskies scoreless and outgained them 110 yards to 49 yards. Harris scored his third touchdown of the year, a 24-yard run, to complete a six-play, 80-yard drive to pull the Owls to within one score with a little more than three minutes left in the first half.
After forcing UConn to punt on the ensuing possession, Temple moved the ball to the Huskies’ 25-yard line in the closing seconds of the first half. But Harris fumbled on the Owls’ last play from scrimmage trying to setup a field goal, giving away an opportunity for points before half.
“I told them at halftime, ‘We just got their best shot and we’re still standing,’” Addazio said. “Now let’s go out and play football.”
The starting point of every Temple drive in the third quarter was moved back due to penalties called against the Owls. Both teams struggled to move the ball in the third period, as the only time either team cross midfield was when the Huskies punted at the Temple 48-yard line with a little more than three minutes left in the quarter.
The defensive stalemate continued into the fourth quarter. UConn moved the ball into Temple territory on its first possession of the final quarter, but Christen missed a 42-yard field goal, his second miss of the game.
After a Temple three and out, senior defensive lineman Marcus Green forced Whitmer to fumble with a little less than 10 minutes left in the game. The Owls took over in Huskies’ territory, but gave the ball right back after failing to convert on 4th and inches at the UConn 26-yard line with a little more than eight minutes remaining.
On the Temple’s next drive, the Owls failed to convert on 4th and 1 again after running virtually identical rushes up the middle with Harris that both lost yards.
“For us not to convert on those 4th downs was really hard for us,” Addazio said. “We had some breakdowns and it was almost too hard to overcome.”
But the Huskies weren’t able to capitalize on the Owls’ offensive failures. UConn drove into Temple territory, but Christen’s 45-yard field goal attempt was blocked by senior wide receiver Deon Miller, setting up the Owls’ final drive.
Owls’ true freshman linebacker Tyler Matakevich led all players with 19 tackles after recording 15 last week in his first collegiate start.
“Coaches put in a scheme and we’re just running the scheme,” Matakevich said. “Every week we just try to get better. We’re still learning. We’re young.”
Coyer led a 12-play, 72-yard scoring drive with two timeouts and less than three minutes remaining. On 4th and 7 from the Temple 43-yard line with a little more than a minute left, Coyer hit Harris for 13 yards. On 3rd and 13 from the Huskies’ 48-yard line with less than a minute left, Coyer hit Miller for 33 yards.
“We’ve known since the spring that we’d need to either win or tie a game with the [two-minute drill],” Coyer said. “That was the focus. The mindset doesn’t change from you needing to move the chains down the field.”
On the next play, Coyer moved right, began to scramble, but pulled back and found Fitzpatrick in the right corner of the end zone for the game-tying 15-yard touchdown.
“I was just looking to make a play,” Fitzpatrick said. “I saw man coverage, and I made sure I beat it to make a play for the team.”
Temple won the toss for overtime and elected to defend first. UConn drove the ball to the Temple 11-yard line, but Christen missed a 28-yard field goal wide right. Temple moved the ball to the UConn 12-yard line, setting up McManus’ 29-yard winning kick.
“Fortunately, I’ve kicked here for four years,” McManus said. “I was more nervous for the holder and snapper. We just wanted to win it for everyone that put their heart out there today.”
Temple improved to 3-2 on the year and 2-0 in the Big East, second to Rutgers. The Owls will take on the Scarlet Knights on Oct. 20 at noon at Lincoln Financial Field.
Joey Cranney can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @joey_cranney.