On senior day, junior running back Bernard Pierce rushed for 189 yards and three touchdowns in a 34-16 win against Kent State.
In the last regular season game of an historic season, the Owls’ star running back finished in style.
Junior running back Bernard Pierce rushed for 189 yards and three touchdowns in the Owls’ 34-16 win against Kent State.
“I think our football team took another step today,” coach Steve Addazio said. “That’s finishing and playing your best football down the stretch in November. That’s critical in college football.”
Today’s game marked the end of a historic regular season for Pierce. He rushed for a total of 1381 yards and his 25 touchdowns is an all-time program best.
“I took this year more seriously with preparation and training,” Pierce said. “I had to make sure I worked harder than I ever have before.”
The win against Kent State also gave honors to the coaching staff and senior leaders. Addazio’s eight wins in his first season is a school record and the senior class has now won a program-best 30 games during its four-year tenure.
“I want to tell you how proud I am of our seniors,” Addazio said. “It was an important day for them. They’ve done so much for us.”
“We’re hoping that we’ll be remembered for laying down the foundations at Temple,” senior defensive back Kevin Kroboth added. “When we first got here, things weren’t as good as they are now. We want to lay down the foundations.”
On senior day, the game started out poorly for the Owls, who lost their starting redshirt-sophomore quarterback Chris Coyer on their first series.
Coyer strained his left shoulder on the first offensive drive of the game. Temple shuffled its backup quarterbacks, redshirt-junior Mike Gerardi and redshirt-senior Chester Stewart, on the ensuing drives to no avail.
Gerardi came in for Coyer and the Owls’ offense went nowhere. He was replaced by Stewart, who made a huge blunder that led to an early Kent State score.
Stewart fumbled the first snap of his first drive, recovered by Kent State at Temple’s 16-yard line. Three plays later, Golden Flashes’ senior running back Jacquise Terry ran it in for an 11-yard touchdown.
“We had a lot of things not go our way early,” Addazio said. “But this team was resilient.”
Owls’ senior cornerback Kee-ayre Griffin blocked Kent State’s extra point attempt, which set up the ensuing kickoff that turned out to be one of the biggest plays of the game.
Owls’ junior running back Matt Brown returned the kickoff for 100 yards and a touchdown, only the second 100-yard return in Temple history. The Owls added their extra point to take the lead early into the second quarter.
“That kickoff return was a big momentum swing,” Addazio said. “All three phases, offense, defense and special teams, kicked in.”
“It was huge,” junior-placekicker Brandon McManus added. “It changed everyone’s mindset on the sideline.”
After fumbling twice, Stewart responded with an 11-play, 51-yard drive in the closing minutes of the second quarter to get points for Temple before halftime.
Stewart seemed to lean on senior wide receiver Rod Streater as his security blanket, hitting Streater three times for 35 yards on the drive. McManus hit a 33-yard field goal in the half’s closing seconds.
Despite losing their starting quarterback and turning the ball over twice, the Owls had a four-point lead going into halftime.
“You have to understand that things like that happen,” Stewart said. “You can’t let them get to you because there are still a lot of plays left in the game.”
Temple’s special teams bailed the Owls out on numerous occasions. In addition to Griffin’s blocked kick, the Owls scored all 10 of their first-half points on special teams. McManus also had a touchdown-saving tackle on a kickoff early in the second quarter that allowed Temple to hold onto its 11-point lead.
“The team needed me to [make that tackled],” McManus said. “I feel like if I didn’t get him, it would’ve been a touchdown and a huge momentum swing for them.”
“We relied heavily on our special teams,” McManus added.
The Owls’ offense went right back to work in the second half, executing an eight-play, 63-yard drive on their first possession. Pierce ran for an 18-yard touchdown to give Temple an 11-point lead early in the second half.
After a Kent State field goal, Temple came back with a nine-play, 62-yard touchdown drive, capped by a 25-yard run by Pierce. After fumbling twice, Stewart led the Owls on three-straight scoring drives to take a 15-point lead.
“[Stewart] showed great adversity,” Addazio said. “[He] overcame issues early and we got a great team win.”
Pierce added a 69-yard touchdown run, his third of the game, midway through the fourth quarter to extend the Owls’ lead to 22 points.
Pierce was the difference in the second half. He rushed for 168 yards and three touchdowns, compared to his 21 yards and zero touchdowns in the first half. Once the Owls got their running game going, it became a totally different game.
“Once [Coyer] got hurt, we had to regroup,” Addazio said. “We decided we would go into our power run game and attack. We had to be a little patient, and we were.”
“The seniors needed this win, so I decided to put all of my personal concerns aside and play for the team,” Pierce added.
Temple added a field goal and Kent State managed a late touchdown, but could not overcome the large deficit. Temple won the game 34-16.
The Owls have now won eight games for three consecutive seasons, a school first. Having been eliminated from contention in the Mid-American Conference, Temple must now hope to pick up an at-large bowl bid to play in the postseason.
Temple finished last season 8-4, but were one of only two teams in the country to not be selected to a bowl game despite being bowl eligible. The Owls said they’re confident this year’s result will be different.
“We’re an eight win team, we’re playing great football in November, we have marquee players and we’re in a large media market,” Addazio said. “There’s no question Temple will be in a bowl game. Anything less than that would be ridiculous.”
Joey Cranney can be reached at email@example.com.