Jahad Thomas broke two touchdown runs of more than 20 yards in the fourth quarter to help seal a 30-16 victory for the Owls (6-0, 3-0 American Athletic Conference) against Central Florida Saturday night at Lincoln Financial Field.
The junior had 199 yards rushing and three touchdowns, as the Owls became eligible for a postseason bowl game and started 6-0 for the first time since 1974. For the season, the Elizabeth, New Jersey native has 756 yards rushing and 10 rushing touchdowns.
Thomas, who has at least one rushing touchdown in all six games this season, also ran for 100 or more yards for the fourth time this season.
“[The running game] produces very well,” Thomas said. “When everyone is doing their job, we do great things out there. Everyone was locked in today.”
The Owls opened the game with a nine play, 73-yard touchdown drive that was capped off by a 12-yard run by Thomas. It was the first time the Owls scored on their opening possession since their 35-24 win Oct. 11, 2014, against Tulsa.
The fast start was followed by seven more points for the Owls until the fourth quarter.
During that time ,Temple turned the ball over four times. Senior wide receiver Robby Anderson and sophomore defensive back Sean Chandler fumbled punts and junior quarterback P.J. Walker fumbled and threw his third interception of the season—his first interception since the Owls’ 25-23 win against the University of Massachusetts Sept. 19.
“You couldn’t have had a faster start,” coach Matt Rhule said. “But that being said really at the end of the day it’s penalties, fumbling the ball, dropping the ball. It’s not really anything else. It can be a little bit frustrating.”
After fumbling a punt with three minutes left in the third quarter, Chandler returned the opening punt of the fourth quarter 65 yards to the Central Florida 21-yard line.
Two play later, Thomas scored on a 22-yard run, and Walker completed a pass to redshirt-junior tight end Colin Thompson for the two-point conversion, giving the Owls a 22-16 lead after trailing for the first time all season in the fourth quarter.
“I thought Champ, Sean Chandler, showed amazing resolve to fumble that punt and then come right back and return the next one and change the game,” Rhule said. “That’s the kind of guys we have on this team.”
Temple’s defense held the Knights’ offense in check throughout the game.
Central Florida totaled 134 total yards of offense—67 rushing and passing yards. The Owls have allowed a total of 75 yards rushing in the last two games. The Knights came into the game averaging a Football Bowl Subdivision worst 51.2 yards per game.
“[We] just play physical, violent, we make a new line of scrimmage,” redshirt-senior defensive lineman Hershey Walton said.
Senior linebacker Tyler Matakevich, who totaled his 400th career tackle Saturday, and sophomore defensive back Sean Chandler collected their second interceptions of the season.The Owls have forced 11 interceptions on the year.
“He’s still going too,” Rhule said of Matakevich’s milestone. “He’s such a great competitor, a tough guy … I challenge him about his pass defense in the preseason and he’s made some big plays for us, so I just think he’s a total team guy.”
Michael Guise and Owen McCue can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.