NCAA

Temple beats Memphis to keep control of own destiny in AAC

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Temple beats Memphis to keep control of own destiny in AAC

BOX SCORE

The Temple Owls don’t want to leave anything to chance.

After all, this is a team that won six games a season ago for a rare occurrence to become bowl eligible only to be skipped over for postseason play.

That spawned the team’s 2015 motto of “Leave no doubt.” And now with the season on the line coming down the stretch, the Owls are making sure they remain in control.

Temple shook off its recent struggles to pull away from Memphis for a 31-12 win on Saturday afternoon at Lincoln Financial Field (see Instant Replay).

With the victory, the Owls (9-2, 6-1 American Athletic Conference) kept control of their own destiny in the AAC. A South Florida loss to Central Florida on Thanksgiving or a Temple win over UConn in next Saturday’s regular-season finale clinches the East Division for the Owls and puts them in the AAC championship game.

“I felt like we came into this game prepared and with a mentality that we were going to play our best football,” said quarterback P.J. Walker, who threw two touchdowns to reach 50 for his career and surpass Temple legend Henry Burris for the program’s all-time record. “This game right here was the definition of playing for one another.”

“I told the team this would be its greatest accomplishment, those seniors this would be their greatest accomplishment,” Temple head coach Matt Rhule said.

“I don’t know if I can philosophically explain it well enough. At the end of the day, we’ve never really been able to win this game. We’ve won a lot of games, but the game where everyone is watching [and saying] ‘OK, can they win the championship game?’ We get distracted. Last week was a blessing in many ways because we were locked in and focused.”

That heightened level of focus was particularly evident on defense. After getting gashed for 84 points and 953 combined total yards in the last two games, the Owls’ D returned to its usual stout form Saturday.

The bounce-back effort ended up being a necessity for Temple, as the Owls’ defense was thrust into critical situations early. Temple turned it over on each of its first three possessions in the game (fumble, interception, turnover on downs), but the defense only allowed a pair of field goals off of those circumstances.

“As an offense, you can’t just go three and out or take a field goal. You have to drive down the field at least once or twice and punch it in,” Memphis quarterback and projected first-round pick, Paxton Lynch, said.

That set the tone for the day, as Temple held Lynch and the Tigers (8-3, 4-3 AAC) to 232 total yards of offense and four field goals.

Not bad against a team that’s slotted at No. 21 in the College Football Playoff rankings and came into Saturday sixth in the nation in scoring with 43.7 points per game.

“That’s Temple defense right there,” said linebacker Tyler Matakevich, who had 11 tackles to become just the seventh player in NCAA history to post at least 100 tackles in four straight seasons. “We had it in us all along. Unfortunately, the previous two weeks you got to give those other teams credit. They came out ready to play, but we just weren’t clicking. This week was big. We said we’ve got to get back to our fundamentals, get back to doing what we’ve been doing all year and that’s playing hard-nosed, tough football for four quarters and being the more physical team. That’s what we did today.”

“They just had two bad games,” Walker said of the defense. “They showed today that they are that dark side defense.”

Even with the defense playing lights out, Memphis was still within reach thanks to Temple stalling out time and again on offense. Despite the Owls reaching the end zone twice in the first half, they could never develop a real rhythm.

That carried over into the third quarter, which allowed Memphis kicker Jake Elliot to connect on his fourth field goal of the day to bring the Tigers within 14-12.

With the crowd murmuring with nervousness, TU’s offense was finally able to get the drive it needed to open up the floodgates. The Owls balanced runs and passes to move the ball all the way to the Tigers’ 13-yard line to close out the third quarter. To open the fourth, the Owls ran an end-around with tight end Kip Patton, who received a monster block on two defenders from fellow TE Saledeem Major, to get into the end zone.

Temple followed that up with a 13-play, 62-yard drive on their next possession that took 7:59 off the clock and resulted in an Austin Jones field goal.

“We felt like Memphis was getting banged up and guys were coming in and out of the game,” Rhule explained. “We felt like we were wearing them down and I think we finished with over 200 yards rushing. If there is a negative it was our offense on third down. I thought we ran the ball well all game. It’s a cumulative effect throughout the game.”

To put a cap on things, Walker, who finished the day with 261 yards passing, found a rumbling Major for a 19-yard TD to give him the school’s all-time record.

“It means a lot but you have to think about the guys around you giving you the opportunity to make it happen,” he said. “You have to thank the O-line for protection, teammates for making plays and just give them most of the credit and thank God for the opportunity.”

Now the Owls get the opportunity to finish the job on their own terms and reach the American Athletic Conference title game.

Rhule wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I showed them what the 2011 team with coach (Steve) Addazio, they were 5-4 and they knew they needed to get to seven or eight wins,” he said. “They had a great group of seniors there – Adrian Robinson, Morkeith Brown and all those kids went out and beat Miami of Ohio … beat them at the end of the game, very similar [to today] and we won four straight and finished 9-4 that year and won a bowl game for the first time since 1979.

“This was that kind of moment for me. Are we gonna do it or not? I don’t want to slide into a championship game. I don’t want someone else to lose. It’s like when USF won last night, it was almost exhilarating. This is what it is, man. This was a playoff game today. This was a championship-caliber game today. You have to feel like you can win those and we won it the way we play, which is what I liked.”

Temple, Anthony Russo continue winning ways

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Temple, Anthony Russo continue winning ways

BOX SCORE

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Temple quarterback Anthony Russo has impressed his coaches with his big arm and tendency to make game-changing plays at critical moments.

The 6-foot-4 sophomore delivered again in one of his team's biggest road tests of the season.

Russo threw for 300 yards with a 62-yard touchdown pass to Ventell Bryant midway through the fourth quarter and Temple won for the fourth time in five games by running past Navy 24-17 on Saturday.

"It was a fun game," Owls coach Geoff Collins said. "I am just so amazingly proud. Those guys fought back. They stayed together and made play after play after play in an adverse situation in a hostile environment. You just can't say enough about that group of young men who were in there."

Owls fullback Rob Ritrovato tied the game at 17 on a 1-yard plunge within 5:53 left in the third quarter. From there, the defense for Temple (4-3, 3-0 American Athletic Conference) contained Navy's triple-option attack.

Bryant, who had eight receptions for 147 yards, has caught a pass in 42 straight games, which is tied for the longest active streak in the FBS. He also had his first touchdown reception since a 34-10 win at Navy in the 2016 AAC championship game.

"Two years," Bryant said. "The last time I was in the end zone was here. It felt so great. I had a great week of practice. I was doing all of the little things I needed to do."

Senior Garret Lewis got his second career start at quarterback for Navy (2-4, 1-2) ahead of Malcolm Perry, who moved back to slotback. Lewis completed 3 of 11 pass attempts for 14 yards. He also ran for 56 yards with a 1-yard touchdown that gave the Midshipmen a 10-7 lead at the half.

Perry had a go-ahead 30-yard touchdown run called back because of an illegal block on center Ford Higgins.

"I thought that killed us," Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said about the penalty. "I know I'm going to get reprimanded. I don't care. I'll take the fine. It was a horrible call. Just a flat-out horrible call. It was one of the worst I've seen in my 29 years of coaching. The guy did not push him. It cost us the game. I thought the call changed the game. We saw on the replay that it was a bad call."

League rules preclude officials from discussing judgement calls, according to Chuck Sullivan, assistant commissioner for communications for the AAC.

Sophomore fullback Nelson Smith had 18 carries for a career-high 108 yards for Navy, which has lost three straight games. He also had a career-long 45-yard run that set up his first touchdown run from 12 yards out on the opening drive of the third quarter that gave Navy a 17-7 lead.

"It was a good day for me, but I can't really be happy when we lose," Smith said.

Last year, Temple held Navy to 136 rushing yards in a 34-26 victory. This time, the Midshipmen responded with a huge day on the ground, running for 270 yards. However, it was still not enough against the surging Owls.

Temple running back Ryquell Armstead was out of the lineup with an ankle injury. Backup Tyliek Raynor scored his first career touchdown on a 15-yard run with that gave Temple a 7-3 lead with 11:31 left in the half.

RIGHT AT HOME

Temple has enjoyed success in the state of Maryland this season. The Owls also routed the University of Maryland 35-14 in College Park on Sept. 15.

THE TAKEAWAY

Temple: The Owls picked up a big win to keep their bowl hopes alive. Still, Temple faces a challenging schedule the rest of the way with games against No. 25 Cincinnati, No. 10 Central Florida and No. 23 Southern Florida.

Navy: The Midshipmen failed to get to .500 with a rare home loss. It was just the third time in four seasons Navy suffered a setback on its own turf. Navy also has a tough slate of the games the rest of the way, including a matchup with No. 5 Notre Dame on Oct. 27 in San Diego.

UP NEXT

Temple: The Owls host No. 25 Cincinnati for their homecoming game Oct. 20.

Navy: The Midshipmen play at home against Houston on Oct. 20 before embarking on three straight road games.

No. 8 Penn State upset in heartbreaking fashion by Michigan State

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No. 8 Penn State upset in heartbreaking fashion by Michigan State

BOX SCORE

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Brian Lewerke threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to Felton Davis with 19 seconds left to lift Michigan State past No. 8 Penn State 21-17 on Saturday, making it two consecutive seasons that the Spartans used a late score to hand the Nittany Lions a second straight loss.

Lewerke completed 25 of 52 passes for 259 yards with an interception and two touchdowns for the Spartans (4-2, 2-1 Big Ten), who were coming off a loss at Northwestern but handed Penn State (4-2, 1-2) a devastating blow - just like last year.

Two weeks ago, Penn State let a fourth-quarter lead get away against Ohio State before getting a week off to prepare for Michigan State. Last year, in consecutive weeks, Penn State lost to Ohio State and Michigan State, with the Spartans kicking a last-second field goal.

Davis, who came back from an injury he sustained on the previous drive, finished with eight catches for 100 yards.

Miles Sanders ran for 162 yards and a touchdown for the Nittany Lions and Trace McSorley completed 19 of 32 passes for 192 yards with a touchdown to become the program's all-time passing yardage leader.

It looked like the Spartans would regret an attempt at late trickery.

After a 10-play drive deep into Penn State territory, Michigan State lined up for what could've been a tying 40-yard field goal with 5:19 left, but faked the kick. The ploy failed when safety Garrett Taylor swatted Lewerke's pass away from defensive tackle Raequan Williams.

But Penn State ran just seven plays on its next two possessions and gave Lewerke the ball back with 1:19 to play and he put together an eight-play, 76-yard game-winning drive .

THE TAKEAWAY

Michigan State: The banged up Spartans, still without running back LJ Scott and wideout Cody White, were able to control time of possession and keep Penn State's offense well below its scoring average. That possession time advantage paid off as Penn State's defense looked gassed again in the fourth quarter.

Penn State: Coach James Franklin said his team needed to evolve from a great team to an elite one after its one-point loss to Ohio State. The Nittany Lions still have plenty of work to do to get there. They looked sluggish on offense late, committed six penalties for 41 yards, turned the ball over twice and had no answer for Lewerke's arm in the fourth quarter.

UP NEXT

Michigan State: The Spartans host No. 12 Michigan next week.

Penn State: The Nittany Lions go to Indiana next week.