ANNAPOLIS, MD. – Ventell Bryant celebrated scoring a touchdown on Saturday for the first time since Dec. 3, 2016, back when Temple University had a different coach and starting quarterback.
His first score in 680 days came at the same stadium, against the same team, and in the same end zone as his last.
The Temple (4-3, 3-0 American Athletic Conference) graduate student wide receiver caught a 62-yard, game-winning touchdown from redshirt sophomore quarterback Anthony Russo in Temple’s 24-17 win against Navy (2-4, 1-2 The American) at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
“It just felt so great [to get a touchdown], I had a great week of practice doing all the little things I needed to do,” Bryant said. “I just want to thank the Lord. I have been praying a lot, things haven’t been going my way. This week, we had chapel, and the message hit me in the heart.”
With his performance, Bryant also moved into second place on Temple’s all-time receiving yards list. He is 175 yards away from tying Willie Marshall, who played from 1983-86.
With his first catch — a 15-yard pass from Russo — Bryant recorded his 42nd straight game with a reception. He and California State University, Fresno senior wide receiver KeeSean Johnson remain tied for the Football Bowl Subdivision lead for the longest active stretch of games with a catch.
“I just have to be detailed in what I am doing,” Bryant said. “Coaches believe in me, the players believe in me. So I just have to go out there and make a play, and that is what I strive to do every week.”
Bryant said he “was asking the Lord, ‘Why me?’” after he suffered an arm injury in practice before last week’s game against East Carolina. He received limited playing time against the Pirates and couldn’t move his arm, he said.
Bryant said he was 100 percent healthy for Saturday’s game. He had five catches for 118 yards in the second half. Bryant finished with eight catches for 147 yards, which were both single-game team highs. He accounted for nearly half of Russo’s 300 yards passing.
“[Bryant] has been due for one of these games,” offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude said. “He got a hot hand in the first half, made a couple of nice catches, and at halftime we said, ‘We are riding with the older guys, and let’s try and find him,’ and that is what we did.”
Coach Geoff Collins said Bryant’s performance was important, not only because of the touchdown, but also the amount of “key catches” he made. Of his eight receptions, three of them gained a first down for Temple, and two others brought the Owls within 1 yard of a first down.
The last time Bryant hauled in a touchdown before Saturday, he and former quarterback Phillip Walker connected on a 22-yard score in the first quarter of the 2016 American Athletic Conference championship, which Temple won, 34-10.
Before this year’s game against the Midshipmen, Bryant said he thought he could have a big game against Navy’s secondary because of the soft coverage they play. Russo said they expected to get matchups against man coverage.
“I thought we were going to have the [62-yard touchdown] play all week while watching film,” Russo said. “We thought Ventell could run right past [the Navy secondary].”
“We told [Patenaude] and told our coaches, ‘We have great receivers outside,’” Bryant said. “Anyone of us can make a play, and today was my day. When you have an opportunity to make a play, you have to step in and make that play. …I want to be the guy that steps up.”
Russo said Bryant received extra treatment from the athletic trainers to be able to play against Navy. He recorded his first game with 100 or more yards receiving since the Owls’ loss to Wake Forest University in the 2016 Military Bowl.
“[Playing the last two weeks] just goes to show you why he is wearing No. 1, why he is a single-digit guy,” Collins said. “Just the way he competes. Some things happened to him early, it got a little chippy out there, but I thought the way he focused and just made play after play, I think it speaks volumes about his character.”
“Ventell had a breakout game today,” Russo said. “I think he needed that. We just have to keep building on it for him.”