This game was a doozy. There’s no other way to describe the Owl’s 31-24 win over Villanova to start the season 1-0 and take back the Mayor’s Cup. This had to be one of the most dramatic Division-I-bowl-team-against-a-Football-Championship-Subdivision-team game in a long time. Let’s look at what some other Mid-American Conference teams did this past week against FCS opponents.
On Sept. 2, Kent State pounded Murray State 41-10, Buffalo destroyed Rhode Island 31-0 and Thursday’s opponent, Central Michigan, bullied Hampton, 33-0. I’m sure the fans of those teams were happy their teams won, but were probably not as excited as the 32,193 fans at Lincoln Financial Field who saw Temple technically do the same thing as the three aforementioned teams.
“There are a lot of irrelevant games in college football this weekend,” coach Al Golden said. “This is not one of them. This is going to be a meaningful game for years to come.”
See, this is where I get stuck. I thought the lesson learned last season was that this game isn’t relevant. Last season, the team made an appearance in a bowl game despite losing to Villanova in last season’s opener. The team overcame the embarrassment of losing to a FCS team to make a bowl game, which proved that no matter what the result is in any Mayor’s Cup game, the team could still have postseason success.
“There’s going to be a lot of skeptics and cynics that say, ‘Well, you beat a I-AA team,’” Golden said. “Wrong. We beat champions, that’s a championship team.”
Yes, the team did in fact beat a championship team, but the fact remains that Villanova is still an FCS team and the Owls winning this game shouldn’t be treated as a surprise or a great achievement. The team did what it was expected to do.
It is easy to dismiss this game because of its irrelevance in the standings, but the fact that Villanova has the ability to give the Owls a run for their money in these past two games gives the Mayor’s Cup a hard-to-define intangible value.
“[The game] tested us as a team, it tested our poise. We were able to shake off adversity, and that’s a big thing that good teams should have,” junior quarterback Chester Stewart said.
That’s where this game gets its meaning: the challenge that Villanova provides right in the beginning of the season. While other teams are basically having a glorified scrimmage against cupcake teams, Temple had to fight to earn its win and, in the process, learn about itself by identifying where some of its strengths and weaknesses are.
Stewart walked away from this game as Temple’s best offensive player. He had a solid game, as he went 16 for 27 with 200 passing yards, including a 63-yard touchdown pass to senior wideout Michael Campbell. He was able to do this despite a fairly mediocre game from sophomore running back and Heisman candidate Bernard Pierce, who managed 75 yards on 20 carries. Pierce’s counterpart in the backfield, sophomore back Matt Brown, accomplished a lot more with fewer carries. He had just 10 carries, but averaged two more yards per carry than Pierce with 5.4 YPC, and he managed to also find the end zone on a 17-yard touchdown run.
The offensive line wasn’t as helpful at times, giving up three sacks and leaving Stewart to rush some throws, but to his credit, Stewart did not throw any interceptions, but the most impressive thing Stewart did against the Wildcats was bounce back from his only turnover. And it was, at the time, a pretty soul-crushing turnover. With Temple holding a slim 22-21 lead with 2:17 left in the game and having possession of the ball at its 22-yard line, Stewart and junior center John Palumbo botched a snap that Villanova recovered and the Wildcats took the lead back on a 41-yard field goal.
Stewart then responded by marching up the field and giving sophomore placekicker Brandon McManus an opportunity to win the game with 43-yard field with three seconds left, showing his mental toughness in brushing off a near-fatal mistake.
“Obviously he won the game for us, and I’m excited for that. He did show a lot of poise and a lot of maturity,” Golden said. “We had a quarterback that won in the 2-minute drill. This time he did it after he made a critical error.”
The defense, on the other end, took a while to get going and stop a Wildcat drive. It took until the fourth quarter to finally force a punt and played pretty poorly in the first half, allowing Villanova to go 4 for 5 on third down and allowing 133 passing yards and 75 rushing yards. The defense had also given up a touchdown on the ground and in the air.
This was caused by missed tackles and poor coverage, particularly on Villanova senior wideout Matt Szcur being able to break free in the end zone for a 3-yard touchdown reception. There were also times where the defense looked tired and unprepared on a few snaps, but to their credit, they locked up the Wildcats’ offense when it mattered. Regardless, their play has to improve going forward.
It’s great that the team is able to start the season with a win, but they have plenty of things to fix as they have a matchup with the defending MAC champions staring them in the face this Thursday.
Brian Dzenis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.