ANNAPOLIS, MD. – During Temple University’s 24-17 win against Navy on Saturday, the team was up against similar obstacles that led them to lose in previous games this season.
But this time, the Owls finally figured it out.
Before the season, Temple players publicly stated their aspirations of winning the American Athletic Conference, a goal that no longer seemed attainable after a season-opening 19-17 loss to Villanova and a 36-29 loss to the University at Buffalo the following week.
It is in reach for Temple (4-3, 3-0 The American) winning its second conference title in a three-year span. By beating Navy, the Owls proved for the first time this season they can overcome challenges within a game.
Navy received the second-half kickoff as it held a 10-7 lead. Navy sophomore fullback Nelson Smith had two carries for 57 yards on the ensuing possession, which he capped off with a 12-yard touchdown run.
Temple trailed by 10 or more points for the fourth time this season after Smith’s score. In their first three losses of the season, Temple lost to Villanova and Buffalo and fell 45-35 to Boston College on Sept. 29.
Instead of faltering, Temple changed the tide of the game and kept its season on track by scoring 17 consecutive points and holding Navy to 67 yards of offense to clinch its third straight conference victory.
“We were down at halftime and I am just so amazingly proud of the way those guys fought back and stayed together,” coach Geoff Collins said following the Owls’ win. “They made play after play after play in an adverse situation, in a hostile environment.”
Temple’s five remaining regular season games contain the toughest challenges it will face this season.
If the Owls can win out, they will clinch a berth in the conference championship game. On Saturday, they will host Cincinnati (6-0, 2-0 The American) on Oct. 20 for their homecoming game. The Bearcats are ranked No. 20 in the Associated Press Top 25 Poll.
Then on Nov. 1, the following week, the Owls will travel to Central Florida (6-0, 3-0 The American), which has not lost a game since Dec. 17, 2016. Like Temple, No. 10 UCF bent but did not break on Saturday, eeking out a win against Memphis on the road, 31-30, after trailing for the first three quarters.
Temple had its backs against the wall in the third quarter against Navy. Its defense spent 20 of the first 31 minutes on the field. It seemed like Saturday would follow the script of Temple’s three losses, which were plagued by turnovers, missed field goals and untimely penalties that were too much to overcome.
Against Villanova, junior kicker Aaron Boumerhi missed a 29-yard field goal. In the fourth quarter against Buffalo, junior defensive tackle Karamo Dioubate committed a roughing the passer penalty that would allow the Bulls to score the game-winning touchdown.
In Massachusetts, redshirt-sophomore quarterback Anthony Russo threw interceptions on back-to-back drives in the second quarter. Those consecutive turnovers allowed Boston College to score 25 straight points and win.
Unlike those games, the Owls won on Saturday in spite of their errors, they showed great improvement and gave themselves a great chance to reach their goal of winning the conference.
On Temple’s opening drive, the Owls committed a penalty on second-and-goal from the 1 and settled for a 26-yard field goal attempt, which redshirt-freshman kicker Will Mobley missed.
Two plays later, redshirt junior linebacker Chapelle Russell recovered a fumble. Junior wide receiver Isaiah Wright then lost a fumble less than one minute later, erasing the Owls’ opportunity to take advantage of the turnover. The Midshipmen used 10 minutes, one second to drive down the field and take a 3-0 lead.
After a 62-yard touchdown catch from graduate student wide receiver Ventell Bryant gave the Owls a 24-17 lead in the fourth quarter, Temple forced a Navy three-and-out. The Owls ran off six minutes and seven seconds on their following drive before Russo threw an interception in the end zone to give Navy an opportunity to tie the game with two minutes and six seconds left.
The Owls stopped Navy and left Annapolis with a win.
“We kept fighting like we always do but there was a big belief system that somebody was going to go out there and make the play,” Collins said on Monday’s coaches media call. “Keep executing the way we have been, and things will come together for us, and they did. … The cumulative experiences, and some of them have been negative which we learned from, we were able to apply in the second half of that game.”
The Owls proved they can go toe-to-toe with any member of The American.
In every game this season, the Owls have been in it until the very end. Their record should be better than it is, but they were able to put themselves over .500 with a victory on Saturday.
“I was trying to preach to all the guys at halftime, they weren’t stopping us, we were stopping ourselves with penalties, stupid mistakes,” Russo said. “I was just trying to make sure everyone had laser focus, know your job on every play, execute it and on to the next one. Just some uncharacteristic penalties and mistakes that we had that we got to clean up.”
Temple controls its own fate after winning its first game in which it trailed by 10 or more points. The Owls overcame mistakes that hurt them in the past. But before they can possibly win out and make the conference championship game, Temple must beat Cincinnati on Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field.
“Whoever we are playing next week, we’re gonna come in on Sunday and watch the film and just get ready to play,” graduate student defensive tackle Michael Dogbe said. “We’re not looking ahead. …We are focused on our next opponent and how to stop them.”