Senior day got off to a slow start pun intended for the Temple Owls, but they scored 27 unanswered in the second half to defeat the South Florida Bulls, 27-17, Saturday to keep their slim hopes alive to compete in the AAC Championship game.
Temple (7-4, 6-1) will turn their attention to tonight’s matchup in Orlando between the Cincinnati Bearcats and UCF Knights. If the Bearcats can somehow end UCF’s magical run, the Owls still have a shot to represent the AAC East.
Meanwhile for the Bulls (7-4, 3-4), they have now lost four straight games, but this one might sting the most as they looked to have this game well in hand after the first two quarters.
The Owls trailed 17-0 entering the half after the Bulls defense held Temple running back Ryquell Armstead in check in the first half. Armstead set an AAC record with six touchdowns last week, but was held to 34 yards on 12 carries in the first half, and 22 of those came on one play.
USF was led by Jordan Cronkrite, who had 82 yards and found the end zone twice in the first half. The problem from there: Cronkrite finished the afternoon with 83 yards. If you struggle with math, he picked up just one yard in the entire second half. The Bulls offense could get muster up little in the second half as Temple dominant in all three phases of the game. True to their form all season long, the Owls scored in a variety of ways.
Armstead got the scoring started after powering his way in for a touchdown on a fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line. The senior running back went over 1,000 yards on the year, only the 11th player in Temple history to do so.
Things got interesting over the next couple minutes as a flurry of big plays from both sides had momentum shift back and forth.
An offside penalty and decent return by the Bulls set them up with great field position at their own 48-yard line. On second down, Blake Barnett - who played this week after missing last week’s game against Cincinnati - was picked off on an absurd one-handed catch by Delvon Randall. It is third straight game the Temple defensive back has come up with an interception.
Temple wouldn’t keep possession long, however, as Anthony Russo threw into double coverage on the next play and was picked off by Ronnie Higgins.
Three plays later, Quincy Roche recovered a fumble on a missed exchange between Barnett and Johnny Ford. Temple would turn that turnover into three points to cut the USF lead to 17-10.
Will Mobley converted his second field goal of the game to bring the Owls within three points with just under four minutes remaining in the third quarter.
On the ensuing possession, USF went three-and-out and was forced to punt. Isaiah Wright took the punt down the right sidelines for a 73-yard punt return for a touchdown to Temple on top for good. It was the second time this season Wright took a punt return back for a score and the 10th non-offensive touchdown for the Owls this season.
The Owls recovered an onside kick following the touchdown in a play in which it looked as though Mobley intentionally kicked the ball off Jeffery Farrar. The ball was recovered by DaeSean Winston, but the Owls could not capitalize on the play.
USF had an opportunity to at least tie the game after receiving possession down by three points at 20-17 with 1:44 remaining. On the first play of the series, Dana Levine came through with the strip-sack on Barnett and Chapelle Russell recovered the fumble in the end zone to cap off the scoring. It was the second time this season that Temple scored on offense, defense and special teams in one game.
The Bulls had one final possession, but Barnett was picked off once again on an errant pass, this time by Linwood Crump, to seal the deal for Temple.
There were a ton of milestones reached in this one. The 17-point deficit set up the biggest comeback of the season for Temple, which came back from a 10-point hole in the 24-17 win at Navy. The last time the Owls came back from 17 points or more was in 2007 against Akron when they scored 21 unanswered to win that game, 24-20.
The 2018 senior class recorded their 34th win on Saturday, which is the most in program history.
Goeff Collins now has the most wins for a Temple head coach in his first two seasons with 14. He passed Wayne Hardin and Steve Addazio who both had 13.
Temple will close out the regular season with a trip to take on UConn next Saturday. USF heads home in the all-important War on I-4 against UCF.