Matt Rhule possibly blasted “Staying Alive” by the Bee Gees on the stereo in the locker room. Rhule, the head coach of the Temple Owls, most likely couldn’t believe the result based on his team’s play. The Owls yielded 84 points in their previous two games and left the top 25 rankings after four consecutive weeks in the polls.
In a must-win situation, the host Owls stifled the 21st-ranked Memphis Tigers, 31-12, at Lincoln Financial Field on Nov. 21. The Owls, who accumulated 461 yards of total offense, improved to 9-2 (6-1 in American Athletic Conference play) and maintain a one-game lead on South Florida in the AAC East with one game remaining in the regular season. Memphis, which posted 232 yards of offense, suffered its third consecutive loss, dropping to 8-3 overall and 4-3 in the American.
“We had [Temple] mapped out pretty good,” said Memphis wide receiver Phil Mayhue. “We just did not come out and execute.”
Perhaps the way the Owls won their second home game against a ranked opponent in team history (20-10 vs. East Carolina on Nov. 1, 2014) had been astonishing. Temple lost a fumble on its first drive and was intercepted at the Tigers’ one-yard line during the following drive. Don’t forget, the Owls were zero-for-three on fourth down and had a punt blocked near their 25 in the first half.
After three quarters, Temple clinged to a 14-12 advantage. In the fourth, the Owls posted 17 points while the Tigers didn’t score.
“As an offense, you can’t just go three and out or take a field goal,” said Memphis redshirt junior quarterback Paxton Lynch. “You have to drive down the field at least once or twice and punch it in.”
Kip Patton’s 13-yard rushing touchdown, the first of his career, extended Temple’s lead to 20-12 with 14 minutes and 54 seconds remaining in regulation (Austin Jones converted the extra point for a 21-12 Temple advantage). Jones symmetrically-kicked a 35-yard field goal with five minutes and 45 seconds left for a 24-12 Temple lead (the drive elapsed seven minutes and 59 seconds). Saledeem Major cashed-in a 19-yard touchdown reception with three minutes and 22 seconds to play (Jones added the extra point for a 31-12 advantage).
Memphis tallied the game’s first six points on field goals by Jake Elliott, a 31-yarder with three minutes and 34 seconds left in the first quarter and a 46-yarder in the first three minutes of the second. Temple took its first lead, 7-6, with four minutes and 36 seconds left in the first half on a 13-yard reception by Romand Deloatch (Jones nailed the extra points. Three minutes and eight seconds later, the Owls’ lead extended to 14-6 on a David Hood 14-yard run and an extra point; however, Elliott successfully kicked a field goal with 88 seconds until halftime (Temple entered the locker room with a 14-9 lead).
Elliott missed a 37-yarder a little over 10 minutes to play in quarter three as the ball bounced forward off the right upright. He redeemed the error with a 39-yard close to six-and-a-half minutes later to make it a 14-12 game in favor of Temple.
“We couldn’t get much going and we had to settle for field goals every time in the red zone,” said Memphis head coach Justin Fuente. “That’s just not going to get it done.”
Lynch completed 25 of 34 attempts for 156 yards. However, he couldn’t scamper for a yard on a fourth-and-one at the Tigers’ 37 with four minutes and 27 seconds remaining in regulation. This was the first time this season the Tigers failed to record a touchdown.
“I’m not sure if [the Owls] did anything different than we had expected,” said Lynch, “but we knew they were going to come in here and be a tough and physical defense.”
Walker completed 14 of 26 passes for 261 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception. The passing score to Major had been the 50th of Walker’s career, setting the Temple record for most throwing touchdowns (Henry Burris recorded 49 from 1993 until 1996).
“I am proud of him,” Rhule said of Walker. “He has always been a really good quarterback and his touchdown to interception ratio has been pretty good this year.”
Senior linebacker Tyler Matakevich continues to enter the record books. Matakevich’s fourth tackle, which came with 13 minutes and 27 seconds to go in the first half, was his 100th in 2015, becoming the seventh player in NCAA Division 1-A history with four consecutive 100-tackle campaigns. He recorded 12 tackles against Memphis and has 463 overall, 29 shy of the Temple record set by Steve Conjar (492) from 1978 until 1981.
“He was a guy who nobody wanted when he went to prep school,” Temple defensive coordinator Phil Snow said of Matakevich. “He made himself this great of a player with all of his hard work.”
The Owls return to Lincoln Financial Field to host Connecticut in their regular season finale on Nov. 28 at 7 p.m. A Temple win wouldn’t solely clinch the division, it would mark the second 10-win season in team history (10-2 in 1979).
“We know what is at stake and we are considering this a playoff game,” Matakevich admitted. “If you win you keep on going and if we lose we go home.”
This was the Owls’ first day game since Oct. 10. Temple’s previous five games were under the lights. After the contest against Connecticut, the Owls would’ve participated in eight night games this season, the most in program history.
“It feels good to know that we won this game, but it is over now,” said Hood. “Now we have to focus on UConn because that’s what’s next.”