STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Jahad Thomas stood behind Phillip Walker in the Owls’ backfield, waving his arms to encourage the rival Penn State crowd to get louder. More than 100,000 people rose to their feet at Beaver Stadium as Walker got ready to snap the ball on a crucial fourth-and-goal from the one-yard line.
The Owls have come to embrace their games against the Nittany Lions, especially playing in Beaver Stadium, which has about 30,000 more seats than any of the other stadiums Temple will play in this season.
Saturday’s 34-27 loss to Penn State was Walker and Thomas’ last trip to Beaver Stadium. It might be the last trip any Owl makes to play against Penn State for quite some time.
After meeting 10 times in the last 11 years, Temple and Penn State won’t play next year, or the year after that, or the year after that. For now, the series will take a rest as Penn State tries to rekindle a rivalry with the University of Pittsburgh.
What will future Owls miss out on?
“Just the great atmosphere and how fun it is, just to play against Penn State,” said Walker, who’s faced Penn State three times in his career. “I call it ‘the battle of PA.’ I’m not from here, but playing at Temple, it’s just something I feel is very unique just because of how different, how hard we play them and how hard they play us. It’s just a battle.”
Both schools have their non-conference schedules booked for the next three seasons, so the teams won’t be able to meet until at least 2020. The Big 10 Conference’s nine-game schedule has also limited the number of nonconference games Penn State can schedule, making it harder to fit in a meeting with Temple, although a few Owls fans have started a petition on change.org suggesting a unique way the two teams can squeeze in a matchup.
“College football has made the decision because of TV and all to not play regional games anymore,” said coach Matt Rhule, who played at Penn State from 1994-97. “So then it’s really hard then to throw the onus back on the schools like, ‘Hey, figure it out.’ We’re all in these different conferences.”
The Owls had 10 chances to beat the Nittany Lions during the last 11 years. They came away with only one win during that stretch — the 27-10 victory at Lincoln Financial Field last season — but the almost-annual meetings between the two schools have been a good tracker of Temple’s growth.
When the series started in Happy Valley in 2006, Temple lost 47-0. Penn State trounced the Owls in the next three meetings as well.
But Temple hung with a nationally ranked Nittany Lions squad in 2010, and the Owls were minutes away from taking down Penn State in 2011. Last year’s victory and Saturday’s seven-point loss proved Temple belongs on the same field with the Big 10 school, which wasn’t the case in 2006. Temple’s regional adversary then was Football Championship Series opponent Villanova in the Mayor’s Cup.
It’s hard to call Temple-Penn State a rivalry because Penn State has dominated the all-time series 40-4-1, but there’s definitely intrigue from both sides.
Some not-so-friendly chants directed at Penn State filled several cars on the Broad Street Line earlier this season as fans headed to Temple’s games against the United States Military Academy and Stony Brook University. The Owls fans paid no mind to who their actual opponent was. The Penn State fans reciprocated the jeers with some adult language of their own at Saturday’s game.
The past two contests between Temple and Penn State have shown there might be some potential down the line. There were 69,176 fans at last season’s game at the Linc, and 100,420 people filled in to see the two teams plays Saturday.
Maybe meeting up with an in-state school from a non-Power 5 conference isn’t as appealing to Penn State faithful as annual matchups with Ohio State University, the University of Michigan, Michigan State University and other traditional football powerhouses. Still, Temple is like the little brother the Nittany Lions hate losing to, a little brother that hit a growth spurt last season and stole a win from the older sibling.
With a series against the University of Maryland in 2018 and 2019 and four matchups with Rutgers University beginning in 2020, maybe the next batch of Owls will find a new rivalry to hold onto. Temple wrestled a few recruits from Rutgers recently including freshman wide receiver Isaiah Wright and freshman quarterback Anthony Russo.
“Obviously it’s fun, like I said this week, to play regional games,” Rhule said. “I look forward to playing Rutgers because we have a lot of guys who are from New Jersey. … As much as we love Pennsylvania, we have a lot of Jersey kids too, Maryland and all that.”
Owen McCue can be reached at email@example.com.