Temple Owls
USA Today Images

No cupcake here: Temple barely survives feisty Villanova

BOX SCORE

Pop quiz: what’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear an FCS team is visiting an FBS team on any given weekend?

Mismatch?

Blowout?

Cupcake?

Don’t tell that to FCS No. 6 Villanova. And surely don’t tell that to Temple, which got all it could handle and more while barely surviving the Wildcats on Saturday afternoon at Lincoln Financial Field (see observations).

A defensive struggle turned spicy late as Villanova’s fourth-quarter rally was snuffed out by a two-minute drive led by redshirt sophomore QB Logan Marchi and a 49-yard winning field goal off the foot of Aaron Boumerhi with a minute left, both of which propelled the Owls to a 16-13 victory over their rivals from the Main Line.

Temple improved to 1-1 on the young season after last week’s shellacking at Notre Dame. Villanova fell to 1-1 on the campaign.

It was far, far from pretty, but it was the first win in the head coaching career of Temple’s Geoff Collins.

“That’s a really good football team we just played against,” a relieved Collins said after the game. “There’s no doubt they should be ranked in their division — a really good team. They fought till the very end. I thought they had some really good second-half adjustments.”

Both teams slogged through this one for the better part of three quarters and change.

The only time the announced 35,117 in the crowd came to their feet in the first three quarters was when Marchi, who ended up with 274 passing yards on the day, executed a flawless eight-play, 75-yard two-minute drill that led to fullback Nick Sharga’s TD plunge from a yard out with a single second left in the first half to give the Owls a 10-0 lead.

On that drive, Marchi threw for 77 yards on five completions, including a tipped pass that was caught by Ventell Bryant for 15 yards, a 32-yard strike over the middle to Isaiah Wright and a 17-yard throw to a diving Adonis Jennings, who hauled in the fastball at the Villanova 1-yard line with :05 left on the clock.

Sharga scored on the next play.

It was an important cushion the Owls wound up needing in the end.

“We knew we had to move the ball down the field there and that’s kind of our offense, being able to do that and get on the ball,” Marchi said. “We executed those plays well. I’m not going to lie, we had a couple lucky tips there. The one to Ventell ended up getting tipped and he made a great play on that. Getting the ball to those players there is what we need to do.”

“We practice that every other day,” Collins said of the end-of-half scramble to the endzone. “We go ‘Mayday Alert.’ We get something going, we go full speed and try to get points.”

After an uneventful third, things blasted up more than a few notches in fourth.

Early in the final quarter, Villanova senior QB Zach Bednarczyk continued to tear up the Temple pass defense as he had all day long. But this time, the Owls finally broke.

Bednarczyk hit wideout Taurus Phillips in the middle of the endzone on a slant to make it a 13-10 contest with 10:12 left. Things were now officially itchy for the Owls, who had zero answer for Bednarczyk’s arm.

After the rushing attack headed by Matt Gudzak and Aaron Forbes spearheaded a 266-yard effort in the Wildcats’ win over Lehigh last week, it went for just a measly 20 yards on Saturday afternoon against the Owls.

But with the way Bednarczyk was carving up the Temple defense almost effortlessly through the air, who needed a rushing attack?

Bednarczyk went 27 for 41 for 382 yards and the touchdown to Phillips. The Owls were basically at his mercy, especially in the second half when he went 19 for 24 for 284 yards and the TD.

“He’s a lot faster than they give him credit for,” Temple defensive end Sharif Finch said of Bednarczyk. “He’s pretty elusive and he has a good arm. So I think they have a great quarterback. He handled his business today.”

It was an interesting dynamic that played out on the field for the Temple defense.

Last week, the Owls’ defense was scorched by Notre Dame's rushing attack to the tune of 422 yards and five touchdowns. It was the complete opposite story Saturday. Sure, Villanova isn’t Notre Dame, but Temple’s defense struggled miserably against the pass on Saturday.

But Collins was quick to give credit to what the Wildcats did.

“Their quarterback is really savvy,” Collins said of Bednarczyk and the Villanova passing attack, both of which haunted his team all day long. “He was able to be slippery and make plays. I give credit to them. “

The Wildcats continued to assert themselves and their momentum continued to grow in the fourth quarter to the point where a 34-yard Drew Kresge field goal allowed Villanova to tie the game at 13-13 with 3:29 left.

If things were itchy on the Temple sideline before, well, now a rash had officially broken out.

And it was up to Marchi, in just his second career start, to lead the offense late in an effort to snuff out the Wildcats’ upset bid.

“Guys were coming up to me on the sideline saying, ‘You got this, you got this,’” Marchi said. “In your head, it’s just like practice. You go out and you throw the ball where it needs to be thrown. You run the plays that need to run. The time difference changes the pace of the game, but it doesn’t change your mindset.”

Marchi then went out and engineered a seven-play drive that included a lovely one-handed grab by Bryant, who missed last week’s loss, for 29 yards that got the Owls into Wildcats’ real estate. Bryant led the Owls with seven grabs and 79 yards on the day.

But the drive stalled, putting the responsibility on the shoulders of sophomore kicker Aaron Boumerhi to hit from 49 yards out. He had nailed one from 44 yards earlier in the day, but had also missed wide left from 48 yards.

He stayed true and drilled a career-long field goal with a minute left to put the Owls up 16-13.

“I try not to think about the last kick. It’s a new kick now,” Boumerhi said. “I just wanted to put it through the uprights and help my team win. I knew what I did wrong on the first kick. I was just worried about correcting that.

“I was pretty nervous… It was the first time I ever had to make a crucial kick like that with the game on the line.”

But Bednarczyk and the ‘Cats still had a pulse. They had a minute left to punch Temple in the gut and force OT or even leave with the upset, just as they did in 2009 and 2003. Two of Villanova’s three FBS wins have come at the expense of the Owls.

And they drove into Temple territory as the clock trickled down. Bednarczyk hit Gudzak over the middle, but the RB was stripped by Temple linebacker Shaun Bradley and Finch recovered to save the day and wipe the sweat off the collective brow of the cherry and white faithful.

The slugfest was over. But much was learned. What exactly?

The ‘Cats are still a legit FCS threat.

And the Owls have a plethora of things to work on and bumps to smooth out if they want to be taken seriously in the AAC.