Seniors leave program better than they found it

After winning a program-best 20 games in the last two seasons, the Owls’ seniors pass the torch to the underclassmen and a new head coach.

Senior quarterback Philip Walker takes off his helmet following a 3-and-out drive in the first quarter at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium on December 27th. | PATRICK CLARK / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Temple made history at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium on Dec. 3 when it won its first conference title since 1967. It was nothing new for the Owls.

The team has won a program best 20 games in the last two seasons, and the Owls’ seniors won 28 games in their four years, tied for third most in a four-year span.

The Owls had another chance at history in Annapolis, Maryland in Tuesday’s Military Bowl against Wake Forest University. After falling behind by 24 points in the first half, Temple couldn’t complete a second-half comeback in its 34-26 loss.

Temple reached back-to-back bowl games for the first time in school history, but just like in last year’s Boca Raton Bowl, the Owls came away with a loss, failing to win a program-best 11th game.

Interim coach Ed Foley said he told the team after the loss that the team only played up to expectation for one half.

“I also told them that we won 10 games and I was proud, absolutely proud of the way they came back toward the end and made it a one-score game,” Foley said. “We’re trying to be the best Temple team ever and obviously we’re tied for the best Temple team ever, which doesn’t sound great. But we are champions, and I’m proud of the seniors and proud of all they contributed to the program and I was proud to be their coach for the last 21 days.”

Playing through a dislocated finger that happened on an early drive, senior quarterback Phillip Walker completed 28-of-49 attempts for 396 yards and two touchdowns. It was his third game all season with 300 or more passing yards. He finished with a career-high 22 passing touchdowns and 3,295 passing yards, more than 300 more yards than last year. Walker owns several Temple career records, including completions, touchdowns, yards and wins by a starting quarterback.

Temple struggled in the running game on Tuesday, finishing with negative 20 yards, but for the eighth game of the season senior running back Jahad Thomas led the team in rushing with 35 yards. Thomas finished his career third in school history in total touchdowns and rushing touchdowns.

The next time the Owls take the field, Walker and Thomas will not the in the Owls’ backfield. Sophomores Ryquell Armstead and Jager Gardner, freshman Isaiah Wright and redshirt-sophomore David Hood will all be vying for the starting running back spot. Armstead would appear to be the frontrunner after averaging 5.9 yards per carry and leading the team with 14 rushing touchdowns.

“With Ryquell, he’s bringing quickness and power with him,” Thomas said. “Jager’s more bigger but you know he has that home run speed. With Isaiah, he’s more shifty. David Hood could be versatile, kind of similar to how I play with going out and receiving catching passes out of the backfield. So you know that’s definitely one spot on the team that we know is going to be really good next year.”

Four quarterbacks will be fighting for the starting spot in spring camp. In two seasons, redshirt-sophomore Frank Nutile has completed three of five attempts for 40 yards and a touchdown. Redshirt-freshman Logan Marchi was 2-for-6 passing for 29 yards this season. Freshmen Anthony Russo and Tommy Wyatt didn’t play this year.

“The next couple of years I think this program is going to be exceptionally great,” Walker said. “I can’t wait to keep watching these guys.”

Redshirt-senior defensive lineman Haason Reddick and the rest of the Owls’ defense held Wake Forest to three points in the second half. Redshirt-senior defensive back Nate Hairston forced Wake Forest senior defensive back John Armstrong out of bounds after an 80-yard kickoff return to keep the Demon Deacons out of the end zone. Senior defensive lineman Averee Robinson led the Owls with a season-high nine tackles and senior linebacker Jarred Alwan and redshirt-senior linebacker Avery Williams each had seven tackles. Redshirt-senior defensive lineman Praise Martin-Oguike, who became the first Owl to be on three bowl teams, made six tackles.

Reddick also had six tackles on Tuesday, including one tackle for loss. He finished the season with 22.5 tackles for loss, tying Dan Klecko’s mark set in 2002 for a Temple single-season record.

The Owls’ defense had allowed 6.6 per game in the five games before Tuesday’s bowl. Temple will lose six of its defensive starters from Tuesday’s game.

Several Owls have received postseason honors. Hairston will play in the East-West Shrine game on Jan. 21. Reddick and senior offensive lineman Dion Dawkins have accepted invitations to play in the Senior Bowl. Reddick, Dawkins and Thomas each received an invitation to the NFL Combine, which will be held from Feb. 28 to March 6 in Indianapolis.

New head coach Geoff Collins watched part of the first half from the Owls’ sideline as he talked to Athletic Director Pat Kraft. Collins has already begun formulating his coaching staff. He will retain Foley, wide receivers coach Frisman Jackson and running backs coach Chris Wiesehan. Dave Patenaude will leave his position as offensive coordinator at Coastal Carolina University for the same role with the Owls. David Feeley, the assistant strength and conditioning coach at the University of South Carolina, will join the Owls’ staff as the new head strength coach.

Collins had also been watching practices and evaluating players in the weeks leading up to the Military Bowl. He’ll be tasked with continuing the program’s success under former coach Matt Rhule, who guided the team to bowl eligibility in each of the last three seasons.

“[Collins] was out there watching over us and then he came to me and was like, ‘We’re going to be good next year,’ sophomore defensive back Delvon Randall said.

“I feel like he’s bought in already,” Randall added. “I don’t think he’s going to come in here and change too much and he seems like an uptempo guy. Like we’re just going to continue our legacy here.”

Evan Easterling can be reached at or on Twitter @Evan_Easterling.

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