Temple tops Navy for first conference win of the season

Temple Football held off Navy’s second-half comeback attempt, after allowing 15 unanswered points, for their first conference win in 364 days.

E.J. Warner leads Temple to win over Navy for first conference win in nearly a year. | ROBERT JOSEPH CRUZ / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Temple entered Saturday’s matchup 364 days removed from its last conference win. The Owls’ last conference win came against South Florida on Nov. 5, 2022.

The Owls were desperate to snap their seven-game conference losing streak, and they did just that.

Temple (3-6, 1-4 American Athletic Conference) defeated Navy (3-5, 2-3 AAC) 32-18 Saturday afternoon. The Owls held off a second-half comeback from the Midshipmen after jumping out to a 17-0 lead at the half. 

“It’s good to be in the win column coming off the bye week,” said Temple head coach Stan Drayton. “Good to see our kids locked in and focused about their level of preparation, gave them a chance to win, and we had to go out here and execute.”

Quarterback E.J. Warner made his return to the lineup after missing the previous two games while in concussion protocol and did not skip a beat. He led a commanding eight-play, 75-yard opening drive which ended in a 22-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jordan Smith.

Warner finished with 402 yards and four touchdown passes, completing 27 of his 33 pass attempts. With Warner under center, the offense looked much smoother compared to the previous two games where they were outscored 100-14.

“I’ve been out for a little bit,” Warner said. “I didn’t really feel out of rhythm at all. [I] came back just like the player that I was before. These guys made plays for me and helped me feel more comfortable.”

Entering this week, Navy’s defense was the third-ranked pass defense in the AAC, allowing just 216 pass yards and 362 total yards per game.

However, Temple was able to pick apart Navy’s defense with quick passes to their tight ends, along with using Warner’s legs to move around in the pocket and extend plays.

The tight ends of Smith, David Martin-Robinson and Reese Clarke finished with eight total receptions, 106 yards and three touchdowns.

Wide receiver Zae Baines was the standout offensively for the Owls, leading the Owls in receptions and receiving yards with seven and 132, both are career highs. 

“It was kind of an up-and-down week with Zae,” Drayton said. “Trying to get back healthy all last week and the bye week, he was really trying to fight and get back. He got the green light sometime during this week, and it was good to see him back out there.”

However, Navy did not go down without a fight, as Temple allowed them to come back in the game with three straight possessions with turnovers in the third quarter.

Two of the turnovers came from wide receiver Amad Anderson, who fumbled the ball on a 72-yard reception. He then muffed a punt on the preceding possession, which led to the Midshipmen’s first touchdown of the game on a 24-yard touchdown reception from Eli Heidenreich. The other turnover came from an interception from Warner, which also led to a touchdown for Navy. 

“To be honest with you, you don’t win games like that with four turnovers,” Drayton said. “You have to damn near play perfect to overcome what we had to overcome. Two interceptions and fumbles, it’s just not clean football that way.”

Defensively, the Owls did a good job stopping Navy’s triple-option offense, limiting the Midshipmen to just 144 rushing yards compared to their 205 average rushing yards per game.

The defensive line, which has been a consistent weakness for Temple all season, was a pivotal factor in stopping Navy’s rushing offense. They were disciplined with their eyes and did not miss assignments, making it easier for the linebackers and safeties to make tackles.

Linebacker Jordan Magee was the standout for the Owls defensively, as he finished the game with 11 total tackles, nearly half were for loss, both led the team. 

“I give all the credit to the D-line,” Magee said. “They did a great job stuffing them up front and it makes it easier when you don’t have lineman climbing at you, and linebackers and safeties can just get off and make plays.”

It was not perfect for Temple’s defense, as they allowed Navy to score 18 points in the second half. However, the turnovers on offense kept the defense on the field for an extended time and gave the Midshipmen short-field position.  

Temple quickly responded after allowing 15 unanswered points in the second half with back-to-back touchdown drives in the fourth quarter, putting the Owls on top for good.

“It’s monumental,” Martin-Robinson said about Temple’s resilience. “We had a third of the season left before this game, so it can seem very daunting when you’re going through hardships like that. Overcoming that can be one of the greatest skill sets in life for everyone that’s involved in the organization.”

Temple will look to build off of the win when they travel to Tampa, Florida to take on USF (4-4, 2-2 AAC) on Nov. 11 at noon.

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