The American Athletic Conference championship picture got a lot clearer on Saturday.
Cincinnati (10-1, 7-0) blocked an extra point try following Temple’s second touchdown that would have given the Owls the lead, and Coby Bryant took the loose football back 98 yards for two points to keep the Bearcats perfect record in AAC play intact.
The AAC West remains up for grabs and Cincinnati could decide how that race plays out as well. The Bearcats travel to Memphis in the regular-season finale in what could be a preview of the championship game. If Memphis wins, the two teams will meet once again at the Liberty Bowl to decide the league winner. If Cincinnati wins, they will host the title game, and play Navy if the Midshipmen can beat Houston on the road next week. It will be the first championship appearance for the Bearcats since the formation of the AAC.
Meanwhile for Temple (7-4, 4-3), they beat themselves with the blocked extra point, a missed field goal, a bad snap on a punt and inconsistent play from the offense. The special teams play for the Owls has been a problem all season long and cost them a shot at sneaking their way into the conference championship.
Cincinnati got on the scoreboard with the only solid drive for either team in the first half. The Bearcats went 53 yards on 16 plays before Sam Crosa got the first points of the night with a successful 36-yard field goal.
The Bearcats looked to have a game-changing moment late in the first half as Temple punter Adam Barry’s knee was ruled down on a low snap, and Cincinnati took over at the 6-yard line. Temple’s defense sacked Ridder on first down, and another drop in the game limited Cincinnati to a field goal. It was a crucial stop considering the circumstances and kept the Owls in the ball game entering the half.
It was a brutal first half for both teams as dropped passes, penalties and costly mistakes made it difficult to watch at times. Cincinnati finished the half with 102 yards of total offense, while Temple had just 88, including minus-five yards rushing. There were also nine penalties, including a handful that were declined, and the two teams were a combined 6-of-20 on third downs in the first 30 minutes.
Cincinnati started the second half with great field position as the kickoff went out of bounds. The Bearcats used a steady dose of Michael Warren and Gerrid Doaks on the drive to move the ball down field, which was capped off on a Warren 13-yard touchdown run. It would be last points the Bearcats scored on offense.
Temple moved the ball down the field on the ensuing possession as a pair of Cincinnati penalties helped the case. Anthony Russo looked for Jadan Blue in the end zone on back-to-back plays, but they could not connect, and Temple was forced to try a 32-yard field goal. Will Mobley’s kick was wide right for only his second missed field goal of the season to keep the game at 13-0.
The Owls finally got something going in the fourth quarter with a 10-play, 73-yard scoring drive. Re’Mahn Davis capped the drive off with a 7-yard touchdown run, but that is when Temple’s extra point try was blocked. Instead of a one-score game, the Owls still trailed by nine, and it proved to be the winning play of the game.
Temple forced a three-and-out on Cincinnati’s next drive, and Temple found the end zone once again. Russo found tight end Kenny Yeboah open in the end zone for a 16-yard touchdown to make it a 15-13 game with just under seven minutes to go.
A missed field goal by Crosa on the next drive gave Temple an opportunity to win the game in the final minutes, but Russo was picked off by Darrick Forest to seal the win for Cincinnati.
Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder was 9-of-25 for 62 yards passing and an interception, while Russo finished 24-of-43 for 228 yards, the touchdown and costly interception.
It was not the result that the Owls were looking for, but it seems to be a weekly occurrence in which Blue and Quincy Roche dazzle on the field. Blue finished the game with 13 receptions for 120 yards, the third consecutive week with 10-plus receptions and over 100 yards, currently has 80 receptions on the season with one game to go. Blue passed Zamir Cobb for the most receptions by a Temple player in a single season. The previous record was 74, which Cobb set in the 2003 season.
Roche had another two sacks tonight, giving him 8.5 in three weeks. He has 12 sacks on the season, one shy of matching Temple’s single-season record. Roche also moved to third all-time in school history with 25 sacks and it is hard to find another player in the conference that is more deserving of the AAC Defensive Player of the Year.
Temple will close out the regular season with a home game against the UConn Huskies. It will be the last game for UConn as a member of the AAC, and the last game at home for Temple’s seniors as well. An announcement on the start time and television coverage is expected soon.
While Cincinnati can lose next week and still be in the championship game, winning would not only allow them to host the game, but move them ahead of Memphis in the rankings. The G5 team with the highest ranking in the polls will make it to a New Year’s Six bowl. The first meeting between the two 10-1 teams will be on Black Friday at 3:30 p.m. EST. The game can be seen on ABC.