Bernard Pierce’s third straight 100-yard rushing game, a first for a freshman football player, led the Owls to their third consecutive win, a 24-19 victory over Ball State. Temple sits at 3-0 in conference.
Freshman running back Bernard Pierce finished the football team’s 24-19 win with 125 yards rushing on 26 carries and two touchdowns.
For the third straight game, he recorded 100 yards rushing, a first for a freshman football player at Temple. In 2002, Tanardo Sharps rushed for 100 yards four consecutive times. Pierce also needs just 139 yards and one rushing touchdown to tie all-time leading rusher Paul Palmer for most rushing yards and rushing touchdowns by a freshman. He has seven games left to match that mark.
“It’s good and all to have that record, but I still have a lot of room for improvement,” Pierce said. “I can work on getting downhill, getting more physical, getting my reads better. I did expect to make an impact this year, but I didn’t know how big of an impact it was going to be. I came in knowing that I was trying to make an impact. The offensive line does its thing every week, every practice. They’re trained to do what they do, and I just read what they do.”
Perhaps Pierce’s most crucial yards came about halfway through the third quarter after a high snap sailed over junior punter Jeff Wathne’s head and Cardinals freshman running back Eric Williams landed on it in the endzone for a touchdown. That play gave Ball State a 13-10 lead.
Coach Al Golden responded by calling six of the next nine plays for Pierce, who carried the ball nine times that entire quarter. Pierce rolled in for a two-yard touchdown on his sixth carry of that drive to give the Owls a 17-13 lead they would not relinquish. He added a three-yard touchdown later in the game for his fifth overall this season, which tops the Owls.
“He’s starting to feel it,” Golden said. “He’s starting to carry it, and he’s getting stronger as the game goes on. He’s giving us a glimpse of obviously what he can be. He’s got to continue to work hard and become an all-around player – catch the ball better and protect a little bit better – but right now, he’s doing a good job in the running game.”
In losses against Villanova and then No. 5 Penn State, the Owls handed off to Pierce 13 times for 68 yards.
Against Buffalo on Sept. 26, though, the Owls ran the ball 40 times, and Pierce received 20 of those handoffs, which he converted into 116 yards and a touchdown.
Since then, Pierce has become the feature back, though he still yields to sophomoreKee-ayre Griffin or senior Lamar McPherson on occasion. After that 37-13 win against the Bulls, Golden said all three running backs complement each other but added that he’s been “anxious to get a big back.” At 6 feet, 212 pounds, Pierce fits that mold.
“A game is a game, no matter what my role is,” Pierce said back on Sept. 26 after the Buffalo win. “The coaches do a good job of splitting time with the backs and making sure we’re all fresh in the fourth quarter.”
As a senior last year at the Glen Mills School in Delaware County, Pierce rushed for 1,578 yards and 26 touchdowns, while averaging 143.4 yards per game. He also ran track, and his 10.6-second 100-meter dash ranks No. 1 in the state.
“I feel good [despite carrying the ball more than 20 times in three-plus games as a freshman],” Pierce said. “We lift and are trained to take hits [so it’s not that much of an adjustment physically]. It’s always going to be painful, and I’m always going to be a little sore, but it’s just something that you get used to.”
The Owls face an Army team this Saturday that ran the ball 57 times in a 16-13 overtime win against Vanderbilt. Temple ran 50 times in its win Saturday.
“[The Owls] know what they are,” Ball State coach Stan Parrish said. “They run the ball, and they’re big and physical.”
Pierce, Griffin and McPherson can expect Army to prepare for the run, then.
“Defenses are trying to bring more guys out of the box,” Pierce said. “So it’s a little bit more work, but I just have to continue to do what I do.”
Jennifer Reardon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.