If wins are handed out for first-half play, the Owls would be off to a roaring start to the 2009 season.
Instead, Temple had a case of the turnovers in the second half, and Villanova produced an offensive outburst for a 27-24 Wildcats victory in the inaugural Mayor’s Cup Thursday night at Lincoln Financial Field.
Temple (0-1) turned the ball over five times and blew a 10-0 halftime lead.
“It’s quite simple. The bottom line is we turned the ball over five times. That’s where it begins and ends,” coach Al Golden said.
Redshirt junior quarterback Vaughn Charlton was 19-for-28 for 317 yards and two touchdowns. Charlton found sophomore wide receiver James Nixon on a 75-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter and junior wide receiver Michael Campbell on a 44-yard strike in the fourth.
But they were offset by three interceptions that did the Owls in. On the first drive of the game for Temple, Charlton was intercepted by Wildcats senior defensive back Ross Ventrone. On Temple’s second drive after halftime, Charlton was picked off by sophomore James Pitts.
But it was the third interception that crushed the Owls’ hopes. After Villanova tied the score at 24, Charlton handed the ball right back to the Wildcats when junior defensive back John Dempsey picked off his pass. Villanova took over at the 46-yardline and marched all the way down to Temple’s 15-yardline, where the Wildcats called a timeout with three seconds left. Freshman kicker Nick Yako then kicked a 32-yard field goal to seal the comeback.
“It wasn’t good enough there,” Golden said of Charlton. “He went into the game with a lot of confidence. The shame of it was he threw a lot of good balls.”
Senior running back Lamar McPherson fumbled to start the second half. Ventrone returned that turnover 59 yards to give the Wildcats their first points of the game. Sophomore running back Kee-ayre Griffin then fumbled at Villanova’s 30-yard line with less than five minutes left in the fourth quarter. The Wildcats made Griffin and the Owls pay by scoring on their next drive to tie the game.
“We just didn’t do a great job late in the game,” Golden said. “We’ve taken a lot of pride in protecting the ball. And tonight we didn’t do that.”
Some bright spots for the Owls were Campbell, who caught five passes for 93 yards and a touchdown, and Griffin, who rushed for 70 yards on 21 carries with a touchdown.
For Villanova, junior quarterback Chris Whitney stole the show and brought the Wildcats back from down 10 points early in the fourth quarter. Whitney was just 7-for-14 for 70 yards at halftime but finished with 278 yards and two touchdowns, as Villanova outscored the Owls 27-14 in the second half.
“We hoped that we could get Temple into the fourth quarter, that we could stay close,” Villanova coach Andy Talley said. “It was an uphill battle the whole day because they’re very good and their defense is really, really excellent.
“It’s a huge win in Villanova. They’re playing a very good team in Villanova, and they let us hang in the game.”
Senior wide receiver Brandyn Harvey, who was invisible in the first half, finished the game with nine catches for 142 yards. He caught a 6-yard touchdown pass from Whitney with 1:24 left in the game to tie the score at 24.
The Owls now have 16 days off until their next game at Penn State. Despite the heartbreaking loss and talk that their bowl game chances are just about gone, Golden said it’s way too early to call it a lost season.
“These kids have been through so much,” he said. “Everybody just expects it to change, and it just doesn’t change overnight. They competed. They were prepared.
“It’s not the end of our season. We got a bunch of games left.”
Pete Dorchak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Game Notes: Honorary Temple graduate Bill Cosby and Mayor Michael Nutter participated in the pregame coin toss…Attendance was announced at 27,759.