The Temple Owls soared to their second straight victory over a tough opponent Saturday, defeating the Cincinnati Bearcats 34-26 in a pivotal AAC East matchup.
The Owls defense once again played a huge role in giving Temple their second straight win to start the season. After winning the AAC Defensive Player of the Week for Week 1 of the college football season, linebacker Tyler Matakevich came up with two huge interceptions in the second half and Jahad Thomas also had a second straight impressive week on the offensive side of the ball.
Temple caused Cincy running back Hosey Williams to cough up the ball on Cincy's second drive but couldn't convert the mistake into seven points as Austin Jones nailed a 40-yard field goal.
The Bearcats failed to answer with a field goal of their own on the following drive, but sophomore kicker Andrew Gantz would respond. He would convert on two-straight field goals in the first half to give Cincinnati a 6-3 lead. Temple, like in their opener against Penn State, started stagnantly on offense as P.J. Walker was just 3-of-9 for six yards passing before the Owls turned on the switch in their final possession of the first half.
Cincy's defense gave up only 27 yards total on the preceding three drives, but a P.J. Walker 22-yard dump off pass to running back Jahad Thomas set up the Owls on the goal line. Walker rolled out on second down to find fullback Michael Felton wide open in the end zone as Temple took a 10-6 lead at half.
A contributor to Temple's rejuvenation on offense in the first half was running back Jahad Thomas who opened his season with a 135-yard rushing performance with two touchdowns against Penn State. The multi-purpose back exploded to start the second half as he fielded the kickoff in the end zone and showcased his elusive ability. Thomas followed his blocks, juked out a Bearcat, and took it to the house giving the Owls a 17-6 lead.
Cincinnati and Gunner Kiel answered immediately as the junior found senior wideout Mekale McKay deep on a 88-yard hookup as he beat Sean Chandler clean on a go-route. The Bearcats failed to convert on the 2-point conversion attempt as the lead was cut to just five points.
Just as Cincinnati was claiming momentum in their favor, Thomas snatched it back with a 56-yard burst to the end zone as the junior was making his case for a hypothetical helmet sticker. Thomas finished with a career-high 193 rushing yards on just 26 carries. His breakaway speed and shiftiness out of the backfield was essential for Temple who only had 81 yards passing from Walker.
Matakevich's interception one possession later set up the Owls in Cincy territory. Walker capitalized, finding redshirt senior wideout Robby Anderson in the end zone, who kept two feet in on a catch near the sideline, as Temple took a 31-12 lead into the fourth quarter.
The Cincy surge was evident in the fourth quarter as Tion Green, just one part of the Bearcats' three-headed monster at running back, took the direct snap and powered for the score to cut the lead to two scores.
Just as it seemed the Bearcats would tack on another score, corner Alex Wells picked off Kiel for the second time in the second half and returned it into Cincinnati territory. Temple punted and Kiel formulated a 80-yard drive while connecting with wide receiver Shaq Washington for a touchdown after a Tavon Young pass interference penalty in the end zone.
Thomas' lone mistake came after a failed onside kick attempt from Cincinnati. The junior fumbled on a second down carry as Cincinnati picked up the ball and had one final opportunity. Kiel attempted to get that necessary score to tie the game but was picked off by Matakevich as Temple escaped in Ohio 34-26.
Kiel finished with 427 yards passing going 30-for-52, but had four costly interceptions in the second half. P.J. Walker didn't match Kiel's robust passing total, but was a consistent 13-for-20 with two touchdown passes on the day.
Temple (2-0, 1-0) travels to Massachusetts next Saturday to face UMass and tries to maintain the momentum from the first two weeks of the season.