BY ROCK HOFFMAN
COLLEGE FOOTBALL EDITOR
Annapolis, MD - “My God, a freshman!” exclaimed Larry Munson, the legendary University of Georgia radio play-by-play announcer, after Herschel Walker ran over the University of Tennessee’s Bill Bates and a few other Vols on the way to his first collegiate touchdown in 1980. It’s one of the more memorable plays in college football history. While less dramatic, the Temple Owls can certainly understand the sentiment after University of North Carolina freshman quarterback Sam Howell directed his team to a 55-13 win in the Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
Howell, who is a finalist for the 2019 FWAA Shaun Alexander Freshman Player of the Year Award, threw for 294 yards and three touchdowns, caught a touchdown and ran for 53 yards (including two 24-yard runs, one that converted a third-and-13 and the other set up the Tar Heels first touchdown). All while leading an offense that kept the Owls defense off balance all game, rolled up 534 yards, didn’t punt or allow a sack. The only turnover they committed was when it was 41-6.
“Leading up to this game,” said Temple head coach Rod Carey after his record in bowl games fell to 0-7, “people were saying, ‘he’s gonna be good,’ I thought he was good this year. He executed at a pretty high level today. We didn’t do enough to get him off his game, he played well and so did his whole team.”
“We felt good coming in,” said Howell, who was – not surprisingly – named the game’s most valuable player. “We had a really good week of practice; it was just a matter of going on the field and trusting our preparation.”
“RPO’s, chipping, sliding different protections, getting rid of the ball fast,” said Owls defensive lineman Quincy Roche about some of the things the Tar Heels did to slow down the Temple defense. “They did a great job, it’s a great offense. They averaged 31 points a game. I haven’t played against too many quarterbacks better than him.”
When the Owls did get a Tar Heel corralled, at times, they had trouble getting them one the ground. There were numerous missed tackles.
“We have to tackle better,” said Roche. “That’s unacceptable.”
It’s not as if the Owls (8-5) didn’t have their chances, they moved the ball to the North Carolina 41 on the first possession of the game but the drive stalled after a negative play in the run game.
On the ensuing possession, the Tar Heels got the third-down run by Howell which led to a field goal try but after Noah Ruggles missed from 50 yards, the Owls went three-and-out.
After that, it only took two plays for UNC to score. Howell ran an RPO that fooled everybody and he was at the 39-yard line of Temple before Shaun Bradley could bring him down. On the next play, he threw a deep ball in the corner of the end zone that Dyami Brown hauled in for the touchdown.
Temple went with Todd Centeio at quarterback on the next series, as he’s done all season when he’s come in, Temple moved the ball but the drive came to a halt when he was sacked for an 11-yard loss on first down at the Tar Heels 15. Ultimately, Will Mobley would miss a 42-yard field goal.
Carolina had a first and goal at the 10 on their next possession but Dana Levine tackled Javonte Williams for a two-yard loss and the Heels had to settle for a 26-yard field goal by Ruggles.
The Owls got on the scoreboard when Re’Mahn Davis ran in from the four-yard line after Anthony Russo and Jadan Blue connected for a 60-yard catch-and-run to set the touchdown up but Mobley’s extra point try was blocked.
In need of a stop, the Temple defense almost got it, or at least, almost forced a field goal that would’ve kept them within a touchdown. On third-and-10 from the Temple 16, Howell threw a pass into the end zone that the Owls’ Amir Tyler tipped, UNC’s Dazz Newsome tipped it as well then caught it while managing to get his right foot down in bounds.
With the clock winding down in the first half, the Owls elected to try a 54-yard field but Jacob LaFree’s kick was short and it left 28 seconds on the clock. It was just enough time for the Tar Heels to try a kick of their own. Initially, Ruggles 41-yard try was blocked by Tyler, who scooped the ball up and scored but the Owls wouldn’t get a potentially game-changing special teams play going into halftime because Roche was flagged for offsides. Given a second chance Ruggles was good from 36 and it was 20-6 at the break.
After receiving the second half kickoff, North Carolina matriculated the ball down the field on a 10-play, 83-yard drive which Antonio Williams finished with a one-yard run.
The Owls first offensive play of the third quarter was a pick six. Russo’s pass was intercepted by Storm Duck, who went 20 yards for the score.
“It was an adjustment we made at halftime,” said Russo. “I thought he was running the edge but he did a quick out.”
To make matters worse, Temple went for it on fourth-and-one from their 34 but Davis was tackled for a three-yard loss.
The Tar Heels would make it 41-6 when they ran the Philly Special and Howell was on the receiving end of a two-yard pass from Rontavius Graves.
Late in the third quarter, Temple safety Benny Walls forced Newsome into a fumble and then recovered it. Four plays later, Davis scored on a 45-yard catch-and-run that looked like something out of a video game. It might have gone down as one of the best plays in Temple history if it didn’t occur in a 42-point loss.
Early in the fourth quarter, Newsome made another spectacular touchdown catch on a pass from Howell. Later, Williams score from two yards to cap the scoring.
“We had too many penalties early,” said North Carolina head coach Mack Brown, who finished up the first year of his second stint as Tar Heels coach with a 7-6 record. “Other than that, we pretty much dominated what I felt was a really good Temple team.”
NOTES: Two key Owls didn’t play in the game. Wide receiver and return man Isaiah Wright went home with his parents the day before the game because he was sick while starting cornerback Harrison Hand didn’t make the trip because – as reported by OwlsDaily - he had surgery on an injured finger and plans to enter the NFL draft…Attendance was 24,242…55 points is a Military Bowl record, the previous mark was 51 set by Maryland in a 51-20 win over East Carolina in 2010…It was the fifth bowl in a row for Temple and ninth overall. Their record in bowl games is now 3-6. North Carolina won it first bowl game since 2013 and is 15-19 all-time in bowl games.
Email Rock Hoffman at firstname.lastname@example.org