TEMPLE TAKES GASPARILLA BOWL
St. Petersburg, FL – The Temple Owls won the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl 28-3 over the Florida International Panthers on Thursday night at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, FL.
Temple scored late in the third quarter and twice in the fourth to break open what was a close game but one that they were seemingly still in control of even at the score of 7-3 thanks to their defense which held the Panthers to 257 total yards, forced three turnovers and recorded a Gasparilla Bowl-record of seven sacks.
“They’ve played really well all year,” said Temple head coach Geoff Collins about the Owls’ defense. “They’ve gotten better, they run to the ball, they tackle, they play fundamental defense, they’re coachable. They’re just an amazing group to be around. This is not the first time they’ve stepped up and played at a high level. They’ve done it all year long.”
The Owls defense stepped up on FIU’s first possession, the Panthers drove to the Temple 45-yard line but they lost their quarterback Alex McGough because of an injury. Backup Maurice Alexander came in and faced a third-and-three at the Temple 45 but linebacker William Kwenkeu blitzed up the middle and sacked Alexander for a seven-yard loss.
“Obviously, we haven’t seen him,” Temple defensive coordinator Taver Johnson said referring to Alexander. “We weren’t sure what he was going to be. He’s a tough player, he was tough to bring down. That very first play definitely helped in terms of setting the tone of what was going to happen and the guys finished up great.”
The injury to McGough was perhaps the most significant thing to happen in the first half. The senior, who was playing in his final game a little over a half hour from where he played his high school at Gaither High in Tampa, came into the game having thrown for 2,791 yards and 17 touchdowns with five rushing touchdowns. However, on a five-yard run by Alex Gardner, McGough suffered a left arm injury and was later seen on the sideline with the arm in a sling.
In the first quarter, the teams traded turnovers on back-to-back plays but neither did anything with them. Alexander struggled, he finished the first half four-of-11 with two interceptions and was sacked three times.
The best drive the Panthers put together came midway through the second quarter, after Alexander’s second interception, the Owls turned it over on at the FIU 25. To that point with Alexander at quarterback, the Panthers had gained one yard on nine plays but this time they moved to the Owls 25-yard line but Jose Borregales missed a 43-yard field goal.
The Owls touchdown in the first half came on a four-yard run by Frank “Frankie Juice” Nutile. He also completed two passes for 30 yards on the 65-yard drive; Temple also benefited from a pass interference penalty against FIU.
The Panthers put together two long drives in the third quarter, the first ended when they punted on fourth-and-eight at the Temple 35. The second ended with a 27-yard field goal by Borregales but the Owls were fortunate the game wasn’t tied. On third-and-five at the Temple 10, Alexander had Napoleon Maxwell all alone in the left flat – the Owls had just not covered him – he could’ve walked into the end zone but he dropped the pass.
Temple made it a two-score game on the ensuing possession on a one-yard run by David Hood. That sounds simple but the drive was anything but simple, the Owls moved the ball to midfield but were flagged for holding and a personal foul on the same play and since the personal foul was during a dead ball both infractions counted. The result was a first-and-30 but that didn’t slow down Nutile,he got a first down using successive passes to Keith Kirkwood and Isaiah Wright.
“Even though it was first-and-30,” said Nutile, who was 18-of-28 passing for 254 yards and a touchdown, “we’re going to do what we’re going to do. We put ourselves in those situations all the time in practice. That’s one thing coach Collins preaches, situational awareness. We took a deep breath, said ‘it is what it is, let’s go down the field and score.’ That’s when the game tore open so I credit that to all the situational awareness in practice.”
Then the Don Bosco Prep graduate connected with Adonis Jennings, who made the 39-yard catch while on his back after having been interfered with. Hood appeared to score on the next play but it was overturned by replay (it was one of several reviews that caused the game to move like the airport-security line two days before Christmas). Finally on the next play, Hood stuck the ball over and it broke the plane just before FIU defenders knocked it out of his hands but it was 14-3 Owls.
“Honestly, I was beating myself up after that play,” Hood said, “because I was not supposed to reach the ball over. I’ve got a lot of heart, every time I get the ball, I’m ready to get every yard I can. They called it a touchdown and I was blessed we got a touchdown.”
Midway through the fourth quarter, Nutile, the game MVP, hit Wright on a short crossing pattern that the sophomore broke for a 45-yard touchdown.
The Owls final score was set up when Dana Levine strip-sacked Alexander and Freddy Booth-Lloyd recovered the ball at the FIU 23-yard line. Five plays later, Ryquell Armstead ran in from the five.
The Owls finish the season at 7-6 while the Panthers fall to 8-5. The victory is the third bowl win in Temple history.
Email Rock Hoffman at firstname.lastname@example.org