It was a game of firsts and records for Temple last Saturday night against Eastern Michigan.
The game included the Owls’ first interception of the season, Tyrone Ditzel’s first career touchdown catch, Ikey Chuku’s first career touchdown reception, Chonn Lacey’s first interception of the season, and the first time an Owl has rushed for over 200 yards in a game in 13 years.
Sophomore Tanardo Sharps led Temple to victory with 203 yards of rushing on 18 attempts. That performance was the best output by an Owl since Todd McNair ran for 213 yards against Pittsburgh in September of 1987.
“My offensive line (and) my fullback got the job done,” Sharps said. “They made it easy for me, they made a seam all I had to do was hit it.”
On Sharps’ first carry of the game, he slipped on the wet turf and only picked up two yards. He touched the ball on the next play and took a Devin Scott option 11 yards. On his third carry, he high stepped 65 yards for a touchdown and the longest run of his career.
“He has great speed, he has great vision, and he runs extremely well for a guy his size,” coach Bobby Wallace said. “He’s just a wonderful person.”
As if one 65-yard touchdown run wasn’t enough, Sharps had two. In the third quarter, Sharps ran off the left tackle but made a quick cut and sprinted down the right side of the field for another long scoring run.
“I was just patient enough to cut back,” Sharps said.
That patience gave the Owls an insurmountable 42-19 lead and eventual 49-40 victory.
“The stat to look at is yards per carry,” Wallace said. “Even on a team that struggled blocking last year in the offensive line, he averaged seven yards a carry. It wasn’t just lucky for that to happen. That’s usually your best sign to see what kind of back you have.”
Sharps is something special.
Against Bowling Green he suffered a concussion, but no one knew about it. Even with the head injury, Sharps was able to score a touchdown before he had to go to the hospital for observation.
Against Navy in Temple’s season opener, he ran for 180 yards.
In the fourth quarter, Wallace wasn’t sure about risking Sharps’ health to allow him to surpass the 200-yard mark.
“I was very skeptical but I got talked into letting him run the ball late to get his 200 yards,” Wallace said. “When a guy works so hard for something I felt good about doing that.”
Temple came out early and struck often in the first quarter against Eastern Michigan.
The Owls’ defense let Eagles’ quarterback Walter Church drive his team to the Owls 15-yard line. But from there the defense came up strong and only allowed a field goal.
Temple answered on their ensuing drive with Sharps’ first touchdown run. After forcing Eastern Michigan to go three-and-out Temple, scored again.
This time it was a great play by quarterback Devin Scott.
Scott took all of one play and eight seconds to score a touchdown. With defenders pursing him he stepped up in the pocket and threw a 36-yard touchdown pass to Greg Muckerson in the corner of the end zone.
“I didn’t even see Muck(erson),” Scott said. “All I (saw) was his helmet running. If you throw a ball a certain length at a certain spot on the field, where only he (Muckerson) can catch the ball, you’ll be alright no matter what, and that’s what I did.”
Scott scored himself on the next drive for Temple on a one-yard keeper. At the end of the first quarter Temple led 21-3.
The Eagles came back with a field goal and then a 39-yard strike from Church to Kevin Zureki for a touchdown. The two-point conversion attempt failed.
Scott then came out and ran a perfect two-minute drill before the half. He made two passes to Sean Dillard, one of four yards and one of 24 yards. From the 41-yard line he hit Muckerson for 12 and then Charles Cobb for 27.
At the six-yard line Scott threw to Tyrone Ditzel and Ditzel got the first touchdown reception of his career. Temple led 28-12 at the half.
After a John White touchdown for Eastern Michigan, Scott found Chuku for the first touchdown of the receiver’s Temple career.
The Owls recovered a fumble on the kickoff after the play, but Temple was unable to score, missing a 35-yard field goal.
Then Lacey picked off his first ball of the season, the fourth interception of his career, setting up Sharps’ second touchdown run.
Temple had a 42-19 lead at that point and put in its backups so the starters could rest for tonight’s game against West Virginia.
Against the Temple backups, and after Kyron Johnson scored the first touchdown of his career, Eastern Michigan scored three touchdowns.
But in the end, Temple thwarted any miracle comebacks by Eastern Michigan and won, 49-40.
The win gave the Owls a winning record in their non-conference games at 3-1. That was the goal for Wallace and his players, and now allows the team can focus on a winning conference games in hopes of a possible bowl bid.
A bowl bid would be Temple’s first since the 1979 Garden State Bowl.
Temple opens Big East play against West Virginia tonight at Franklin Field at 7:30 p.m.