Temple football to play in Gasparilla Bowl

The Owls will play in their third straight bowl game against Florida International University in the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl in St. Petersburg, Florida, on Dec. 21.

Redshirt-senior cornerback Mike Jones celebrates a play during the Owls’ 28-24 loss to Connecticut on Oct. 14 at Lincoln Financial Field. | GENEVA HEFFERNAN / FILE PHOTO

As he reflected on the Owls’ loss to the University of Toledo in the Boca Raton Bowl in 2015 Sunday, Leon Johnson said he thinks they were more excited to be there.

In 2016, the redshirt-senior offensive lineman said Temple fell short when it lost to Wake Forest University, 34-26, in the Military Bowl.

Johnson said those two bowl games will help the Owls when they play Florida International University (8-4, 6-3 Conference USA) in the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl in St. Petersburg, Florida, on Dec. 21.

“This should be the one,” Johnson said.

“It’s a great feeling that the team answered the challenge from the seniors,” senior defensive lineman Jacob Martin said. “It was one of our goals at the beginning of the season to get to a bowl game and win that bowl game.”

Johnson hurt his ankle in Temple’s bowl-clinching, 43-22 win against Tulsa on Nov. 25, but he said he expects to play against Florida International.

With that victory, Temple’s seniors became the winningest class in program history with 32 wins. The Owls broke the 2011 senior class’ record.

Before the season started, senior safety Sean Chandler joked around with last year’s class and told them his group would get to the 32-win mark.

“It’s very special to feel like we’re the top dogs and make us feel like we’re better than the other seniors and things like that,” Chandler said.

But to get to the bowl game, the Owls had to win three of their last four games of the season after losses to Connecticut and Army West Point.

Redshirt-junior quarterback Frank Nutile started in the last five games of the season and went 3-2 as the starting quarterback after redshirt-sophomore quarterback Logan Marchi suffered a foot injury.

With Marchi as the starting quarterback, the Owls averaged 19.9 points per game compared to 31.8 points per game after Nutile took over the spot.

“We rallied around the seniors and Frankie Juice,” redshirt-senior offensive lineman Cole Boozer said. “And I think from that standpoint he was motivating and becoming more of a leader as the games went on everybody started following him and that’s when it started picking up.”

Nutile, who is known for the amount of film he watches, said he didn’t really know what to do last week while Temple didn’t know who it would play in the bowl game.

Temple and Florida International both played the University of Massachusetts. The Panthers beat the Minutemen 63-45 on Saturday. Temple beat UMass, 29-21, on Sept. 15.

Nutile doesn’t have class on Monday and plans on starting to study Florida International tomorrow, he said.

“Growing up I always wanted to play Division I football and play in a bowl game,” Nutile said. “I’m looking forward to the opportunity and the chance to play one more game with these seniors, so I’m pumped up.”

Extra practices

Because Temple will play Florida International in the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl, it means it will get a few more extra weeks of practice.

Johnson said the extra practices give the players coming back next season “an early spring ball.”

“It’s like a camp almost,” Johnson said. “You get a chance to prepare for one team and full time for study. It’s very helpful.”

Redshirt-senior wideout Keith Kirkwood said players like redshirt-freshman wideouts Branden Mack and Freddie Johnson and sophomore wide receiver Randle Jones will benefit from the extra weeks of practice.

Jones leads that group in catches with 14 for 194 yards. Mack has two catches for 23 yards, while Johnson has two for 20 yards.

Freshmen defensive linemen Arnold Ebiketie, Malik Burns and Ifeanyi Maijeh have all stood out, Martin said. Burns was a three-star recruit, while Ebiketie and Mayji were both two-star recruits, according to Rivals.com. None of them have seen game action this season.

“I think it’s great for them to be able to work with the older guys and have some of the older guys coach them up with some technique things, give some tips on how pass rush or drop in coverage, things to read,” Martin said. “It gives them the opportunity to build.”

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