Inner city schools covet the tiebreaker in the third annual Mayor’s Cup.
For two straight seasons, the game between the Owls and Villanova has been decided in the final seconds with each team winning the coveted Mayor’s Cup once so far.
Last year’s matchup and late game Temple comeback 32-24 win was witnessed by over 32,000 people, second highest ever for a Temple football game. And who said Temple vs. Villanova is just a basketball rivalry?
“It’s always a hard, tough game,” senior wide receiver Rod Streater said. “It’s been dead even and both teams are trying to prove that [they’re] the best in the city.”
Last year’s game was as close as it could have been. There were three lead changes in the final five minutes. The Owls were down by two, until sophomore kicker Brandon McManus connected on a 43-yard field goal to put the Cherry and White up 25-24 with three seconds remaining and sent 32,000 Philadelphia fans into a frenzy.
“It’s been a dream of mine to kick in that stadium so there was some pressure. But we do pressure kicks in practice and my teammates were pulling for me so I was able to channel that pressure and make it, “ McManus said.
The Owls lost a total of nine starters, including key offensive and defensive starters from last year’s matchup- wide receiver Michael Campbell, free safety Jaiquawn Jarrett, defensive tackle Muhammed Wilkerson and coach Al Golden- have all moved on.
The Temple sideline will now be paced by new coach Steve Addazio, who spent the last five years as offensive coordinator at Florida. Addazio recruited Scot Loeffler and Chuck Heater from the Gators’ coaching staff to assume the offensive and defensive coordinator roles for the Owls, respectively. Loeffler has installed a new system for the starting quarterback to run.
Which quarterback will be running Loeffler’s system against Villanova, redshirt-junior Mike Gerardi or redshirt-sophomore, is still an unanswered question. Redshirt-senior Chester Stewart started the opener against Villanova last season, going 16-27 for 200 yards and a touchdown, but was replaced six games later in the season by Gerardi. Stewart has been suspended for the first game of the season for violating team rules.
“It’s obviously a big transition from what we’re used to running,” Gerardi said. “But [Addazio’s] a great coach with a great resumé and this new system is designed to have an answer for any defense thrown at us.”
Whichever quarterback starts, he will have the fortune of having two returning, experienced running backs behind him in juniors Bernard Pierce and Matt Brown, who combined for 136 yards and a touchdown in last season’s Mayor’s Cup. Pierce will be entering the season injury free after his sophomore season was marred by shoulder and leg injuries.
The run game might have a tough time with the Wildcats defensive front. Villanova boasts a strong defensive line led by sophomore defensive end Antoine Lewis, who tallied 48 tackles last year as a freshman. Junior Marlon Johnson and sophomore Rakim Cox also return as starters. Senior safety Jimmy Pitts has also been known to play near the line of scrimmage, so the Temple offensive line will have their hands full clearing room for Pierce and Brown.
Overall the Wildcats will be in a rebuilding year replacing 12 starters, including 10 All-Conference performers, 17 lettermen, two first team All-Americans and a second round National Football League Draft draft pick from last year’s team.
Owl fans should be excited to no longer have to worry about Szczur, who seemed to be all over the field passing, rushing, receiving, returning punts and scoring touchdowns the past two games against Temple. Whitney will most likely be replaced by a redshirt freshman, Dustin Thomas.
Thomas will have the task of facing the Owl’s new 4-3 defense led by seniors Tahir Whitehead and Adrian Robinson. With seven returning starters from last year’s team that yielded a little more than 19 points per game and three yards per rush, the defense will look to be stout yet again particularly in this game against a young Villanova offense.
The game is Sept. 1 at Lincoln Financial Field. Kickoff is set for 7:00 p.m.
Brandon Stoneburg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.