Walker, Owls ‘growing up’ in their 3-0 start

Junior quarterback P.J. Walker evades a UMass defender during the Owls 25-23 win Saturday at Gillette Stadium. | Jenny Kerrigan TTN
Junior quarterback P.J. Walker evades a UMass defender during the Owls 25-23 win Saturday at Gillette Stadium. | Jenny Kerrigan TTN

Two years ago, P.J. Walker watched helplessly from the sidelines as Central Florida kicker Shawn Moffitt chipped in a 23-yard game-winning field goal with no time on the clock.

One minute earlier, Walker took the field with the two teams tied, hoping he could put the Owls in position to kick the game-winner.

The then-freshman quarterback completed one of his two pass attempts, but the Knights forced Temple to punt. Twenty-eight seconds after Walker walked off the field, Moffitt hit the field goal to take down the Owls 39-36.

“I felt like my freshman year against UCF we had a chance to go out there in the two-minute [offense],” Walker said. “I wasn’t really prepared for it. But you know, I think as I get older, as I grow, things just start slowing down for me.”

In Saturday’s game at Gillette Stadium against the University of Massachusetts, Walker once again led his team onto the field needing a game-winning drive—this time with his team down by one with 1:16 remaining.

Starting from Temple’s 35-yard line, the junior quarterback completed six of his nine passes, marching the Owls 50 yards in nine plays to set up the game-winning field goal in the team’s 25-23 victory against the University of Massachusetts.

“We push practice to that pace right there,” Walker said of the late-game drive. “I felt like we went out there and that was the slow part. Practice is 10 times harder, 10 times faster.”

The Owls’ past two contests in their 3-0 start—the team’s first since 2010—have been decided in the waning moments of the game.

In 2013 and even early in 2014, the outcomes in those types of games were similar to the Central Florida loss. Temple went 1-8 in one-possession games during its past two seasons.

“We’ve been on the wrong side of some of these games,” coach Matt Rhule said. “And this is two weeks in a row it came down to the last play. … That’s what college football’s like. You’re going to play 60 minutes. It’s what it is.”

The team made plays during the final moments in its 34-26 win against Cincinnati Sept. 12 and the victory against UMass Saturday in order to secure wins.

Senior linebacker Tyler Matakevich intercepted Cincinnati quarterback Gunner Kiel in the end zone Sept. 12. Redshirt-senior safety Will Hayes helped set up Walker’s drive Saturday by returning a blocked PAT 99 yards for a two-point play.

Going back to the team’s final game in 2014—a 10-3 win against Tulane—Temple is 3-0 in its last three contests decided by eight points or fewer.

“I was proud of our team last year like at the Tulane game we were able to find a way to win,” Rhule said. “It was kind of a similar situation [Saturday], so I think our kids are just growing up where they’re finding a way to go make plays at the end.”

The Owls have 20 seniors and 24 juniors on their 2015 roster. The upperclassmen have made sure the underclassmen understand it took some bumps and bruises during the last few seasons for Temple to start this year 3-0.

“We’re trying to develop that into their minds,” said Walker, who threw for a career-high 391 yards Saturday. “Like you all have to realize that we’ve been through so much.”

Two young wide receivers caught passes during Temple’s game-winning drive Saturday.

Redshirt-freshman wide receiver Ventell Bryant caught two passes for 15 yards, and sophomore wide receiver Adonis Jennings, a transfer from the University of Pittsburgh, snagged one ball for 12 yards on the drive.

“That’s them growing up right there,” redshirt-senior wide receiver John Christopher. “That doesn’t just happen on Saturdays. That’s because of the work we put in during the week.”

Owen McCue can be reached at owen.mccue@temple.edu, 215.204.9537 or on Twitter @Owen_McCue.

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