After a defensive struggle and moments of sloppy play and uncertainty, the Mayor’s Cup is heading back to a display case on North Broad Street.
Temple's defense made the plays it needed to make while smothering Villanova’s running game as the Owls survived their home opener at the Linc by the skin of their teeth with a 16-13 victory over Villanova thanks to a 49-yard field goal by Aaron Boumehri with a minute even left on the clock.
Saturday's narrow victory marked the first in the career of Temple head coach Geoff Collins.
A relatively monotonous, uneventful game kicked up a few notches at the beginning of the fourth quarter when senior QB Zach Bednarczyk led an 81-yard Villanova drive that ended in the cherry and white-painted endzone with a 10-yard touchdown toss to Taurus Phillips that made it a 13-10 game.
After another fruitless Temple drive, Bednarczyk drove the ‘Cats back into Temple territory, when Drew Kresge nailed a 34-yard field goal to tie the game at 13-13 with 3:29 left.
With the Owls in desperation mode, sophomore Logan Marchi, who finished the game with 274 yards through the air, took the Owls down the field with the help of a one-handed, 29-yard grab by Ventell Bryant down the sideline and a holding call on Villanova corner Malik Reeves.
Boumerhi, who hit earlier from 44 yards but also missed earlier in the game from 48 yards, stepped in and drilled the deciding FG.
With under a minute left, the ‘Cats were driving into Temple territory looking to tie or take the lead. But Temple LB Shaun Bradley stripped Villanova’s Matt Gudzak and the Owls recovered with just seconds left.
The Owls moved to 1-1 on the young season while the Wildcats fell to 1-1.
• Let’s just get this out of the way now: this game was not pretty by any stretch of anyone’s imagination. Penalties, curious play-calling, dropped passes, punts galore, any mistake you can think of, the Owls and Wildcats “featured” it all on Saturday. This was not a Temple-Villanova game you will be telling your grandkids about. I’m sure the 35,117 announced in attendance will agree.
• While mistakes were made and passes were batted down, Marchi seemed more comfortable this week for Temple as compared to last week. Sure, playing at home against Villanova isn’t necessarily the same as making your first career start at Notre Dame in front of a national audience. But Marchi was solid in the pocket and, when he had time, made good decisions. His best throw of the day came in the first quarter when he dropped a 43-yard dime down the sideline to Adonis Jennings in stride. Marchi and Keith Kirkwood seem to be developing some chemistry. When Marchi was in trouble Saturday, more than a few times he threw it up to Kirkwood, who used his 6-foot-3, 220-pound frame to go up and get it, as happened in the first when Kirkwood leapt over a pair of defenders and brought down an 23-yard gain. Having the team's 2016 leading receiver in Bryant, who missed last week’s game with a hamstring injury, back in the lineup, certainly helped, too. Bryant hauled in seven balls for 79 yards in his debut. One thing to improve upon – getting rid of the ball when out of the pocket. On a few occasions Saturday, he scrambled and either took an unnecessary sack or forced a dangerous incomplete pass. That could get him trouble. Still work to do, but a step in the right direction for Marchi.
• Bednarczyk and the Villanova offense racked up 475 yards of offense last week at Lehigh. The ‘Cats posted more yardage this week against a better FBS defense. In total, Villanova put up 402 yards on Temple. But the difference this week was that the Wildcats were able to do their damage through the air as Bednarczyk threw for 382 yards and the TD to Phillips. Gudzak, Aaron Forbes and the rest of the ‘Cats running attack accounted for just 20 yards on the ground.
• The two-minute drive Marchi engineered at the end of the first half tipped the scales in Temple’s favor and gave the Owls a leg up that they wound up needing. The Owls started at their own 25 and took the ball 75 yards in 1:59, capped by fullback Nick Sharga’s TD plunge from a yard out with a single tick left on the clock. Surprisingly, it was the redshirt senior’s first career touchdown. But the key play was Jennings’ diving grab at the 1-yard line with :05 left. Marchi stayed cool in the pocket and fired a dart to the big receiver, who stretched out and hauled in a fastball.
• After Villanova put its first points of the day on the board courtesy of a 44-yard field goal off the foot of Kresge late in the third quarter, the ‘Cats went for the surprise onside kick. And they had the Owls completely fooled. A lovely kick was right in the hands of a Wildcat… until it went right through his hands and to the ground. After a scramble, Temple’s Kenny Yeboah came out of the pack with the ball. Talk about a missed opportunity. That would have totally shifted the momentum in favor of the Wildcats and had the Owls on their heels. This game could have gone an entire different direction in that split second.
• Oh, man. The Owls have plenty to work on this week, don’t they? This was not a great showing by any means at all. Villanova is a very good FCS team, no doubt, and the ‘Cats deserve a ton of credit for how hard they fought and played Saturday afternoon. But Geoff Collins and Temple have plenty of bumps to smooth out – rushing attack, pass defense, offensive momentum, you name it. Head coach Mark Ferrante and the ‘Cats, meanwhile, let it be know they won’t be bossed around in the first year of the post-Andy Talley era and are a legit FCS threat.
• Temple welcomes UMass to The Linc next week for a Friday night tilt. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. The Owls and Minutemen last met in 2015 in Foxboro in a game the Owls stole late in regulation, 25-23, thanks to a blocked PAT that was returned for two points and a field goal as time expired. If the Owls stumbled vs. UMass, a team that eventually finished 3-9 that year, who knows where that 2015 season in the spotlight goes from there?
The Wildcats head back home to the Main Line next week to host Lafayette at Villanova Stadium for the ‘Cats home opener. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m.