IT WAS A WILD ONE AT THE LINC BUT THE OWLS LOSE TO EAST CAROLINA
BY ROCK HOFFMAN
College Football Editor
It was one of those games, Saturday afternoon at Lincoln Financial Field, one of those games where it looked like the team that had the ball last was going to win. Only Temple had the ball last, but they didn't get the victory, falling to East Carolina 49-46 in their season finale. Essentially, it was arena football on a longer field without a roof. The last time the Owls were in a game where the teams combined for, at least, that many points was November 10, 2018, when they won at Houston 59-49.
The teams combined for 1109 yards of offense with Owls' quarterback E.J. Warner throwing for 527 yards and five touchdowns both are school records. For the Pirates, running back Keaton Mitchell only tied his career high by busting the Owls for 222 yards and accounting for four touchdowns – three on the ground and one receiving.
The Owls (3-9, 1-7 American) forced the Pirates (7-5, 4-4 American) to punt on their first two possessions of the game and got a short field in the exchange, it led to a 21-yard Camden Price field goal, but they could've had more. Temple had second-and-goal at the one-yard line but was knocked back on successive plays and had to settle for three. The Pirates got in gear on their next series and Mitchell raced 49 yards for a score. It was 7-3 after one quarter.
Less than a minute into the second quarter and despite blanket coverage, Warner was able to thread the needle on a 6-yard touchdown pass to Amad Anderson Jr. as the Owls took the lead back. ECU quarterback Holton Ahlers wasn't to be outdone and his team answered when Isaiah Winstead just managed to stay in bounds as he caught a 14-yard touchdown along the right sideline of the end zone.
On the ensuing possession, the Owls would earn a brief lead when Warner and Jordan Smith connected for a 40-yard score. Jsi Hatfield took the kickoff 97 yards, and the Owls were on top for just 14 seconds.
The Pirates extended the lead to 28-17 when Mitchell went 73 yards with a catch and run. Mitchell knocked the ball out of quarterback Holton Ahlers hands while faking a jet sweep. Ahlers picked the ball up and tossed it to his running back, who broke one tackle and took it to the house untouched.
"I looked at Cincinnati," said Temple head coach Stan Drayton, "they didn't tackle him, UCF didn't tackle him. Some of the best defenses in our conference did not tackle that running back. There are some things that we could've done better but that running back is the real deal. We knew what he liked to do; we had a plan for it but you have to give credit to that talent."
"He was elusive, fast, shifty," said linebacker Jordan Magee. "You couldn't see him behind the line then he'd break out and bounce it."
The Owls quickly matriculated the ball down the field - they caught a break when ECU was flagged for pass interference on fourth-and-three at the Temple 39. Warner completed three more passes (out of five tries) on the drive with the score coming on a 21-yard pass to Zae Baines. In all, it took less than two minutes.
The Pirates missed a field goal to end the half and Warner was intercepted on the first series of the second half. The Pirates built the lead back up to 11 on an eight-yard run by Mitchell.
The Owls started their next possession at their 46 after a nice return and a penalty, Warner shook off the turnover and with passes to Jose Barbon, Anderson, and Edward Saydee set up a 12-yard touchdown run by Saydee.
Each team held serve on their next possessions, with Mitchell scoring on a two-yard run while Warner and Jordan Smith combined for a 38-yard touchdown. Quincy Patterson's pass to David Martin-Robinson for a two-point conversion made the score 42-39 in favor of the Pirates.
Midway through the fourth quarter, the Pirates turned it over on downs at the Temple 27-yard line and Warner again drove the Owl down the field for a score and the lead. They went 73 yards in exactly two minutes with Martin-Robinson on the receiving end of a 15-yard pass.
The inspired Owls' defense forced a three-and-out with Magee sacking Ahlers on third down. Temple got the ball back with 4:50 left in the game and continued to pass, they got one first down before facing a third-and-one at midfield. Warner's pass was knocked down at the line. The Owls lined up to go for it and the ball was snapped but ECU was awarded a timeout.
Drayton changed his mind, feeling his defense had some momentum, the Owls punted. The Pirates needed to go 89 yards for the go-ahead touchdown and they did in just one minute and 56 seconds. One key play was Mitchell running for 22 yards on third-and-10 at the ECU 26. The score came as Ahlers scrambled around, saw Jaylen Johnson between Temple defenders at the five-yard line, and hit him for a 38-yard touchdown.
"The quarterback, "said Drayton, "makes an unbelievable play. I didn't have that in the thought process, obviously."
Despite moving the ball all game, the Owls struggled when they got the ball back with 1:11 left. They gained just five yards in four plays and the season was over.
"I knew we were going to get the last possession," said Drayton. "That's what I wanted to give ourselves a chance to win, we got it and just didn't execute."
NOTES – Before his final game as an Owl, defensive lineman Xach Gill was awarded a single-digit jersey (No.8) at practice on Friday.
"It's never too late," said Drayton. "He will always be remembered by our players as a single-digit."
Warner finished the game 45-of-63. For the season, he was 268-of-443 for 3,028 yards with 18 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in 11 games with 10 starts. His yardage total is the second-best for a single season in school history.
Barbon caught 13 passes for 160 yards – both career highs. It was his sixth 100-yard receiving game of the season, which is a Temple record.
The Owls open the 2023 season, against Akron on September 2, at the Linc.
Email Rock Hoffman at firstname.lastname@example.org