PHILADELPHIA, PA 9/14/2013 – Trailing 20 – 7 in the third quarter the Temple Owls offense was in need of a lift. The Owls got it when junior Connor Reilly took over at quarterback. He led Temple to three touchdowns and a six-point lead. But the Owls could not stop the last Fordham drive over the last four and a half minutes. A touchdown pass from Rams quarterback Mike Nebrich to wide receiver Sam Ajala with four seconds on the clock and extra point by kicker Michael Marando proved to be the difference in a 30 – 29 Fordham victory at the Linc. A very disappointing and unacceptable loss in the eyes of Temple Coach Matt Rhule.
“You can’t throw the ball up at fourth down with four seconds left and hope he catches it,” Rhule said. “We can’t allow that to happen. People should be coming after us because we deserve it.”
Temple held a 29 – 23 advantage as Fordham started their offense at the 29 yard line with 4:29 on the clock. Nebrich converted a fourth and two play just getting the first down at the Temple 47 yard line. With 1:05 to play and facing a 4th and 6, Nebrich again just got enough yardage for another first down at the Temple 37 yard line. Both conversions were reviewed and the ruling on the field were confirmed. Two plays later with the clock winding down Nebrich scrambled toward the right sideline. He let a pass go to the end zone where Ajala out-jumped the Temple defenders to come down with the ball and the game-winning touchdown. The play was reviewed as Ajala went out-of-bounds and came back in, but the officials ruled the touchdown good as the Fordham wide receiver was forced out-of-bounds.
“It was frustrating,” said Temple sophomore linebacker Tyler Matakevich about the inability to stop Fordham on the final drive. “They got the first one by about two or three inches, and the second by about an inch. We are definitely frustrated, but we have to come back. We should have made the play.”
Rhule tried different signal callers including senior Clinton “Juice” Granger and freshman P.J. Walker. Finally, Rhule turned to Reilly who was injured in the Owls previous game against Houston. With 6:21 seconds remaining in the third quarter Reilly led the Cherry and White to a 10 play, 88 yard drive in 3:04 capped by a 6 yard touchdown run by junior running back Kenny Harper. It was the fifth touchdown of the season for Harper who ran for 105 yards in the game. After Temple forced a Fordham punt, the offense got the ball at their 10 yard line. Running plays by Harper and freshman running back Zaire Williams got the ball to the Fordham 15. Reilly capped the drive with a 15 yard run, and the extra point gave Temple the lead at 21 – 20 with 12:41 on the clock. Reilly threw for 69 yards and ran for 20. posting a rushing and passing touchdown.
“He played well,” said Harper. “He is playing on one leg and came in and gave us a spark. He was in control of the team.”
The defense would be called upon to keep Fordham out the end zone. The Rams got to the two yard line, but the Owls defense stiffened and forced Marando to make a 24 yard field goal. Trailing by two-points the Cherry and White got a 43 yard kick return from freshman Jahad Thomas to start the offense at the 50 yard line. Five plays later Reilly found senior H-Back Chris Coyer for a 7 yard touchdown pass. The two-point conversion gave Temple a 29 – 23 lead at the 4:34 mark, and set up the fateful final drive.
“We couldn’t get anything going on offense at the quarterback position early,” Rhule said. “Connor said ‘Coach I’m good and ready to go in.’ We felt at that point we didn’t have anything going on, and we weren’t going to move the football. Once we put Connor in, it changed. He’s our quarterback.”
Big yardage plays by the Rams added to the Owls woes. Fordham had five plays of over 20 yards. Nebrich and Ajala teamed up for a 52 yard pass play setting the ball at the Temple 11 yard line in the fourth quarter that gave Fordham the 23 – 21 lead. Ajala caught 7 passes for 134 yards. Nebrich found wide receiver Tebucky Jones for receptions of 40 and 21 yards. Jones had 109 receiving yards. Running back Charlton Koonce, a graduate of the Valley Forge Military Academy, got through the Temple defense for runs of 48 and 23 yards. He totaled 168 for the day. Nebrich threw for 320 yards. Marando kicked his career-longest 47 yard field goal to end the first half. The Rams put up 520 yards of offense on 81 plays. The Owls posted 385 yards on 75 snaps. The big plays are of concern to the Temple defense.
“We are a bend but don’t break defense,” said senior safety Abdul Smith. “Notre Dame had big plays and this game, and it’s got to stop. We have to keep practicing hard and get it improved.”
“We can’t be giving up 10, 20 yard plays,” Matakevich said. “We have to come back and get back to the drawing board. It’s a long season. We have to get ready to change it.”
The Owls are 0 – 3 on the season. Next week is a bye week for the Cherry and White, then go on the road to meet Idaho. The team will have this week and next to right the ship.
I thought we had a chance with our
defense at the end,” said Rhule. “There were times we stiffened. On defense we have to overwhelm Fordham but we did not. There are a lot of things that need to be fixed over the last three weeks, and we have an off week to do it and move forward.”
Written By: Glenn Papazian