Owls take flight on opening night

The Owls soar past Army 35-7 to begin the season with a victory.

That was easy.

No, no, seriously. It was.

Behind three takeaways and a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by sophomore cornerback Jamal Schulters, Temple cruised to a 35-7 win over Army Friday night at Michie Stadium in West Point, N.Y.

Defense and Special Teams lead the way for the Owls, as they collectively notched two scores and set up another. In addition to Schulters’ second-half opening return, freshman defensive end Morkeith Brown scooped up a fumble and returned it 18 yards for a touchdown, and senior cornerback Tommie Williams recovered a muffed punt in the first half to give the Owls an early lead that they would never relinquish.

Jason Harper and Steve Maneri embrace after Maneri's touchdown in the first quarter. (Kevin Cook/TTN)
Jason Harper and Steve Maneri embrace after Maneri's touchdown in the first quarter. (Kevin Cook/TTN)

Though play was sloppy at times, the Owls turned the ball over twice and committed eight penalties, overall coach Al Golden was fairly pleased with how his team played.

“We hung in there,” Golden said. “It was a tough attack, we didn’t know what they were going to do…but I would say that we hung in there together. It’s the first time since I’ve been here that we produced in all three fazes [offense, defense and special teams].”

And it was the second of those fazes that cemented the Owls dominance of this game.

Leading 14-0, Black Knights junior quarterback Carson Williams lost control of the football in the backfield. Brown, playing in his first game as an Owl, picked up the ball and fought off numerous tacklers as he stumbled his way into the endzone.

As a defensive player, specifically a defensive lineman, seeing a loose football with nothing but green in front of you isn’t something that comes around everyday.

So obviously, Brown was thinking about nothing but six points.

”Get in the endzone, get that touchdown,” he said. “Got to get that touchdown, we don’t get them often. So when I saw it, I was like, ‘got to go, got to get in there.’”

While that score put Army in a massive hole, what really put the game out of reach was Schulters’ near length-of-the-field return that opened up the second half.

Waiting to return the ball alongside electrifying senior wide receiver Travis Shelton, Schulters followed two massive blocks and went untouched in the end zone.

It put the Owls up by four possessions, and at that point, there was no looking back.

“I just saw one of my teammates blocking, and I just ran off his [backside],” Schulters said. “The rest is history.”

However, the game started out like so many other Temple games have before: with a turnover. On the Owls second play from scrimmage, DiMichele’s pass was intercepted by Army sophomore field corner Richard King, catching the ball after it deflected off of Shelton’s hands.

But unlike so many of those previous Temple games, there were good things lurking around the corner.

After the Temple’s next possession faltered at their own 40 yard line, senior punter Jeff Wathne kicked the ball away to Army senior wide receiver Carlo Sandiego. With the Owls coverage team bearing down on him, Sandiego decided not to call a fair catch and fumbled the football. Williams pounced on the ball, right on the Black Knights eight yard-line.

Suddenly, Temple was in business.

And three plays later, DiMichele hooked up with senior wide receiver Bruce Francis for a five-yard score.

The play took some time to develop, but with ample time in the pocket, DiMichele was able to wait for Francis to get open and score the first six points of the game.

“[Francis] kind of got behind the defender,” DiMichele said. “I wasn’t sure, I was hoping that a guy [from] the backside wasn’t going to come and clean clock me. But I just floated it up there, and he did a good job running underneath it.”

It was the first time since 2002 that the Owls won their opening game, when they beat Richmond at Franklin Field.

But for Golden, well, he’s certainly not paying attention to things like that.

“I don’t know,” Golden said. “You’re talking to a guy who didn’t even know we were on a two year losing streak two years ago when we beat Bowling Green. Something like that doesn’t even enter our locker room.”

The Owls return to action on Sept. 6 for a rematch against Connecticut. It will be the home opener for the Cherry and White, with kickoff set for noon at Lincoln Financial Field.

Game Notes

DiMichele, Schulters, and junior defensive back Dominique Harris were the captains for the game…Francis extended his consecutive games with a reception streak with 27…There was a fairly sizeable Temple cheering section, including a handful of students…Temple University President Ann Weaver Hart, the cheerleaders, and even school mascot Hooter, were in attendance.

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