A 14-point rally in the fourth quarter propelled the Owls to a 35-24 defeat of American Athletic Conference foe Tulsa on Saturday.
“We made some big stops at the end, and made some big plays on offense,” coach Matt Rhule said. “Obviously, it wasn’t a clean game. It’s not really the way we want to play all the time, but I was proud those guys were showing some resolve and showed that they could battle until the end of the game.”
Finishing close games was a problem that plagued Temple (4-1, 2-0 conference) last season, and relapsed in its 31-24 loss to Navy back on Sept. 6.
But, thanks to a 20-yard touchdown reception from sophomore running back Jahad Thomas with 3:25 remaining in the final quarter, and some late stops from the defense, Temple hung on.
The team was fired up afterward, an observation proven by blaring music echoing from behind the press room wall.
“Last year we lost a lot of games in the end,” junior running back Jamie Gilmore said. “This week we’ve gotten over that hump. Now each week we’re trying to get better and better.”
To go along with his late touchdown reception, Thomas ran for 152 yards on 14 carries, establishing the offense from the get-go with a 68-yard run up the right sideline on the game’s first play.
“It gave me a lot of confidence,” Thomas said. “The last few games I have been in a slump and been very hard on myself. But I realized that you have to take advantage of every opportunity that you are given. I was able to do that today.”
Senior running back Kenny Harper capped off the Owl’s 79-yard drive down the field two plays later, with an eight-yard touchdown run to put Temple up 7-0 less than a minute in.
“He broke the early ones and we wanted to keep feeding it to him,” Rhule said of Thomas.
And while the back had a big day on the ground, it wasn’t perfect. Thomas fumbled the ball on the kick return following a three-play, 52 yard touchdown drive from Tulsa toward the end of the first quarter that the Golden Hurricane recovered.
“He got hurt on the kickoff return and he fumbled the first return, so he was down for a while,” Rhule said. “But when he got back in we were able to get him going again.”
“We know from practice that Jahad always has a chance to do something,” Rhule added. “He has a great change of direction and great quickness, and he is just kind of growing into the position.”
Gilmore also put up a strong performance out of the backfield, gaining 43 yards on the ground and 100 yards receiving, which included a 64-yard reception along the left sideline that helped to set up a five-yard scramble into the end zone by sophomore quarterback P.J. Walker with 21 seconds left in the half.
The drive, that put the Owls up 21-14, was preceded by a fourth-down stop with Tulsa on Temple’s one yard line.
The Golden Hurricane tried to jam the ball up the middle with a handoff to its 6-foot, 215-pound running back Zack Langer, but he was brought down by junior linebackers Tyler Matakevich and Nate D. Smith before the line on a play that had the homecoming crowd at its liveliest.
“Coach Snow called our base defense and we just lined up,” Matakevich said of the 4th-and-1 stop. “Everyone did their job and it was just me and Nate’s play to make. Nate held them up and I came over the top and finished them.”
Temple had its struggles on defense, however, as Langer still managed 113 of Tulsa’s 178 rushing yards and its only rushing touchdown, along with 260 yards and two touchdowns through the air by sophomore quarterback Dane Evans.
“We were just missing some tackles,” Matakevich said. “We just have to stick to our job. We had bad plays at times, but this defense is tough, we’re not going to give up and we’re going to get stronger as the game goes on.”
Tulsa receivers Keyarris Garrett (junior) and Keevan Lucas (sophomore) also caused Temple’s secondary some problems.
Lucas gained 109 yards on nine receptions and the only touchdown of the third quarter, a 29-yard reception at the 10:16 mark that tied the game at 21.
The 6-foot, 4-inch Garrett, meanwhile, racked up 58 yards on four receptions, paired up against Temple’s 5-foot, 11-inch freshman defensive back Sean Chandler.
“I knew that we would be going against big sized receivers and I couldn’t let him box me out,” Chandler said.
Tulsa took its only lead of the game early into the fourth quarter, when its senior kicker Carl Salazar made a 44-yard field-goal attempt to go up 24-21.
But Temple climbed back, first with a three-play, 64-yard drive that ended with Walker connecting on a 30-yard touchdown reception to senior wide receiver Jalen Fitzpatrick, then a 10-play, 73-yard drive that finished with Thomas’ touchdown.
The Owls will head to Texas on Friday for their next conference matchup with the University of Houston (2-3, 0-1 conference).
“Today, really for us, is a Monday,” Rhule said. “We play Houston on Friday night, so I go right into it, our staff will work tonight on Houston.”
Temple went up 14-7 on Tulsa at the start of the second quarter, after what looked to be a short field goal attempt on fourth down turned into a three-yard touchdown run for senior holder Connor Reilly on a fake … Sophomore wide receiver Keith Kirkwood dressed for Saturday’s game after learning he was eligible to play the day before.
Nick Tricome can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @itssnick215.