Annapolis, MD- On Temple University football’s first play of the second half, redshirt-junior quarterback Anthony Russo threw right to University of North Carolina (7-6, 4-4 The Atlantic Coast Conference) freshman defensive back Storm Duck, who returned it 20 yards for a touchdown.
Duck’s return gave North Carolina a four-possession lead early in the second half as it beat Temple (8-5, 5-3 The American Athletic Conference) 55-13 Friday afternoon in the Northrup Grumman Military Bowl.
“Obviously, it did not go the way we wanted it to go in any way in any point in the game,” coach Rod Carey said. “It’s a hard one to swallow because I don’t know if there’s that big of a gap between those two teams, but there was one today. You give your hats off to North Carolina. They were the better team today for sure.”
The Tar Heels’ offense was explosive from the start. Tar Heels’ freshman quarterback Sam Howell completed a 39-yard touchdown pass to sophomore wide receiver Dyami Brown with six minutes and 24 seconds remaining in the first quarter. The Tar Heels kept the offensive momentum going as they went up 20-6 at halftime. The Tar Heels outgained the Owls 285-173 in total yards in the half.
Howell completed 25 passes on 34 attempts and finished with 294 passing yards and three touchdowns. Brown and junior wide receiver Dazz Newsome, North Carolina’s top two receivers, caught all of Howell’s touchdowns. Newsome finished with eight catches, 71 yards and two touchdowns while Brown added five catches for 87 yards and a touchdown.
Howell also received a touchdown on a “Philly Special” play. Howell originally pitched the ball to sophomore running back Javonte Williams who pitched it to junior wide receiver Rontavius Groves. Groves then threw it to Howell for the two-yard score with six minutes and 54 seconds left in the third quarter.
“We felt good coming in,” Howell said. “We thought we had a really good plan. We had a really good week of practice and a lot of good practices before we came here. It was just a matter of going on the field and trusting our preparation.”
As much as the Owls struggled on defense, they were just as inefficient on offense. The Owls only compiled 272 yards overall, while the Tar Heels finished with 534 yards.
Temple’s two quarterbacks, Russo and redshirt-sophomore Todd Centeio, each threw an interception. Centeio’s interception came from Tar Heels’ junior linebacker Tomon Fox with 13 minutes and 51 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.
Russo completed 12 of his 20 pass attempts and finished with 128 yards. Centeio completed six of his 12 attempts and finished with 66 yards. Centeio was responsible for Temple’s only passing touchdown of the day on a 45-yard screen pass to freshman running back Re’Mahn Davis.
In addition to the two interceptions, the Owls missed a few scoring opportunities. Redshirt-sophomore kicker Will Mobley missed a 42-yard field goal in the first quarter. Graduate student kicker Jacob LaFree missed a 54-yard field goal with 28 seconds left in the first half. The field goal attempt was LaFree’s first of the season.
Before halftime, redshirt-junior safety Amir Tyler blocked a field goal attempt from Tar Heels’ sophomore kicker Noah Ruggles. Tyler returned it 46 yards for a touchdown but the play was called back after redshirt-junior defensive end Quincy Roche was called offside. The Tar Heels gained five yards on the penalty and Ruggles made a 36-yard field goal to end the half.
Russo said the team beat itself with the interceptions and missed scoring opportunities.
“It just comes down to us as an offense,” Russo said. “I think it was kind of a common theme towards the end of the season. Just hurting ourselves whether it was missed assignments or me missing a throw or penalties, whatever it is. I think it’s just tough to beat a good team like UNC when you had to beat and you’re beating yourselves.”
With the loss, the Owls end the season at 8-5. The Owls’ seniors, like linebacker Shaun Bradley, played their last game in a Temple uniform. Despite the blowout loss, Bradley wouldn’t want to play anywhere else, he said.
“It’s been an honor and a blessing,” Bradley said. “Coming out of high school, there was Temple and maybe one other school. I instantly fell in love with it. The people, the coaches, the players, the brotherhood. The culture of it all is remarkable. I wouldn’t have traded it, changed schools, or anything. I am honored and blessed to finish my four years healthy here.”