COLLEGE PARK, Md. — One play can change the entire dynamic of a football game.
With two minutes and 33 seconds remaining in the first quarter, Temple University faced a fourth down on the University of Maryland’s 36-yard line. Coach Geoff Collins had to decide whether to punt the ball back to Maryland, or pull a trick out of his sleeve. With the game in a scoreless tie, Collins wanted to gain early momentum. He ran a fake punt.
Redshirt-freshman quarterback Todd Centeio, who lined up in the backfield in a punt formation, threw a 36-yard touchdown pass to redshirt-sophomore wide receiver Freddie Johnson in Temple’s 35-14 win at Maryland Stadium. Johnson accounted for 80 yards on the drive and led Temple with 86 yards receiving.
Temple scored the first points of a game for the first time this season. In the Owls’ losses to Villanova on Sept. 1 and the University at Buffalo on Sept. 8, they trailed by at least 10 points for stretches in the first half.
“Our motto today was to start fast,” Collins said. “We wanted to strike first and our kids really bought into that today.”
Temple also scored its second touchdown unconventionally. On fourth-and-goal with 6:38 left in the second quarter, redshirt-senior defensive lineman Freddie Booth-Lloyd took a handoff from redshirt-sophomore quarterback Anthony Russo, who started in place of injured graduate student Frank Nutile.
The 330-pound Booth-Lloyd crossed the goal line to give the Owls a 14-0 lead.
“I looked over at him and I saw that big ol’ belly, and I said, ‘We gotta get that ball and big ol’ belly across the goal line and score a touchdown,’” Collins said.
Booth-Lloyd and the defensive line helped the Owls keep Maryland’s offense from scoring a touchdown.
The Terrapins ran the football 31 times for 132 yards, but 122 of the yards came in the fourth quarter, which started with the Owls up by 21 points. The Owls held the Terrapins to only 8 yards rushing in the first half.
Temple entered the day ranked 125th in the Football Bowl Subdivision in third-down defense, while Maryland was ranked 15th in the nation. The team had its strongest performance of the year, holding the Terrapins to 1-for-12 on third downs.
“If you don’t have a defense that has character and the ability to focus in extreme circumstances, then you’re gonna struggle,” Collins said. “Our guys were dialed in and they played a really good game.”
The Owls had seven sacks, in large part to graduate students Michael Dogbe and Jimmy Hogan. Dogbe had 2.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss, and Hogan had half a sack. Redshirt sophomore Quincy Roche provided a spark, despite playing through an unspecified injury.
Junior linebacker Sam Franklin played three different positions, including edge rusher, showing off his versatility. He had a team-high of eight tackles, including one tackle for loss.
In the Owls’ first two games against Villanova and University at Buffalo, they combined for just two sacks and eight tackles for loss. They had nine tackles for loss against Maryland.
“Creating havoc on the quarterback in the backfield, so the D-line took it to heart this week to really do that this week,” Dogbe said. “To go after their quarterback, you know it was all about heart and going out there and playing hard. We weren’t looking at the two losses previous to this game. We just wanted a fresh start and go out there and play.”
With help of its third-down defense and running game, Temple dominated possession. The team had the ball for 36:33 to Maryland’s 23:27. In the past two weeks, Villanova and Buffalo each had the ball for at least 10 more minutes than Temple.
Senior running back Ryquell Armstead had 26 carries for 118 yards to record his second consecutive game with 100 or more yards rushing.
“I feel like I didn’t even get touched by a linebacker all game, which was all good,” Armstead said. “My O-line did a fantastic job today. When things didn’t go well, we just kept a good head on our shoulders, and we just made sure we just kept going.”
Temple entered the day as the FBS leader in blocked kicks, but it got a taste of its own medicine in the fourth quarter. Maryland redshirt-senior defensive lineman Jesse Aniebonam blocked a punt by redshirt freshman Connor Bowler and returned it for a touchdown to cut the Owls’ lead to 28-14.
Maryland had an opportunity to make it a one-score game, but redshirt-freshman quarterback Kasim Hill threw an interception to junior linebacker Shaun Bradley, who returned it 78 yards to the end zone to seal the fate of the game.
The game was crucial for Temple’s record after losing its first two games of the season. They skirted a 0-3 start in Saturday’s win for the first time since 2013.
“From that 0-2 start, we watched the film and saw our minor mistakes,” Dogbe said. “We knew that we are still a good team. [We knew that] once we put it all together, we can beat anybody. So, we just got back to our process, did simple things like coming in watching extra film, doing all the little things and it turned out to a victory.”