Before every game, Anthony Russo tells the Temple University defense, “I got your back and you got mine.”
The redshirt sophomore quarterback threw three interceptions as Temple (5-3, 4-0 American Athletic Conference) defeated Cincinnati (6-1, 2-1 The American) 24-17 in overtime.
The Bearcats came into Saturday’s game as the No. 20 ranked team in the country, according to the Associated Press poll.
Cincinnati led 17-10 when Russo threw interceptions on two consecutive drives with less than 6 minutes and 12 seconds remaining in the game. Russo’s third interception seemed to take the life out of Lincoln Financial Field and fans started leaving the stadium as if the game was over.
But the Owls’ defense had Russo’s back.
Following the third interception, Temple forced Cincinnati to punt after three plays, giving Russo the ball back. The offense marched down the field to tie the game at 17 and force overtime with 49 seconds remaining.
“It was really nice to see us keep our composure in a testy game,” coach Geoff Collins said. “Our guys were the ones that had the composure when other people didn’t. We forced [Cincinnati] to crack.”
In overtime, Russo hit junior wide receiver Isaiah Wright for a 25-yard touchdown, meaning Cincinnati must score a touchdown to extend the game. At that point, five of Cincinnati’s previous six offensive drives consisted of one turnover on downs and four punts.
Graduate defensive end Zack Mesday made one of Temple’s three sacks to put Cincinnati at third-and-21 on their overtime possession. A 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty forced the Bearcats into a third-and-36.
On that play, graduate defensive tackle Michael Dogbe pressured Cincinnati freshman quarterback Desmond Ridder into throwing an interception into the arms of junior linebacker Shaun Bradley to seal the victory for the Owls.
The Owls’ other two sacks were timely. Dogbe forced a strip-sack of Ridder in the first quarter to help the Owls get on the board for their initial lead of 3-0. Redshirt sophomore defensive tackle Dan Archibong sacked Ridder at the end of regulation to secure overtime.
“We were making sure that we could get more guys in coverage,” Dogbe said. “Our three-man rush is a problem for other teams, and we were able to flush Ridder out of the pocket a lot. … We had more of a desire to get to him.”
Cincinnati’s starting running back, sophomore Michael Warren II, finished the game with 132 yards and one touchdown, but was held to 25 yards during the fourth quarter and in overtime, as the Temple defense smothered both him and Ridder at the line of scrimmage.
Ridder gained 42 yards on the ground during the game, with only eight of those coming in the fourth quarter and in overtime. He didn’t complete a pass in the final quarter or overtime.
Ridder was sacked three times and threw for 111 yards on 14-of-33 pass attempts. He was rushed out of the pocket multiple times and was forced to scramble and either throw the ball out of bounds or rush for a short gain.
“What happens when you have to play offense against the dark side, you cannot come out and run the plays that have been successful all season for you,” Collins said. “You have to change things up because we have a good scheme and we have dominant defensive players who play together and play at a high level. Once our guys got adjusted, it was one three and out after another.”