Temple comes up just short against Notre Dame
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - If Penn State was big, this was program defining for the Temple Owls.
A record 69,280 showed up to see the 21st-ranked Owls take on the University of Notre Dame and everything that comes with it, the tradition, the subway alumni, ESPN Gameday and ABC primetime.
In fact this has all the trappings of the Fighting Irish and USC but it wasn't the Trojans battling the ninth-ranked team in the nation, it was Temple, the same team that was once kicked out of its own conference for being the college football equivalent of the Sixers, a punch line waiting for the latest joke to be told.
Matt Rhule's team was no joke Saturday night, leading the Fighting Irish 20-17 late in the fourth quarter until DeShone Kizer continued his habit of rallying Notre Dame, this time connecting with All-American receiver and Philadelphia native Will Fuller on a 17-yard touchdown with just over two minutes remaining to put the Irish on top 24-20.
P.J. Walker and the Temple offense had one last chance for the biggest victory in school history but were put behind the 8-ball after a hands to the face, personal-foul penalty. Understanding he had to push the football down the field, Walker tried to fit it in a tight spot and Notre Dame's top cover corner, KeiVarae Russell, undercut the route and intercepted the football.
The Owls had their moral victory against one of the country's top programs but the real one will have to wait for another day.
Kizer was Notre Dame's offense, running for 143 yards and two scores and adding 299 more through the air, although he did throw two red-zone interceptions. The Temple defense, led by star linebacker Tyler Matakevich, bottled up the Irish's star running back C.J. Prosise, who managed just 25 yards on 14 carries.
Walker was 13-for-30 for 188 yards with a TD and the pick, adding 38 yards on the ground. Jahad Thomas had 82 yards rushing and a score, while Ventell Bryant had six receptions for 91 yards. Matakevich had 13 tackles on defense.
For the second time this season the Owls sold out massive Lincoln Financial Field, a reality that has the school seriously thinking about elevating its push for a 35,000-seat stadium on campus in North Philadelphia. Competing against the powerful Irish was accomplished, now keeping a successful coach and convincing top-tier local talent to stay in the area are the next steps in the climb toward consistency.
Former Miami-Florida coach Al Golden really started the turnaround on North Broad Street but always had one foot out the door, searching for the next opportunity and when South Florida came calling, Golden went running. Steve Addazio was a similar story, quickly moving toward Chestnut Hill when Boston College was looking for a coach.
Rhule has a history with the NFL and elevating Temple is certainly a bullet point on his resume, one the Owls might convince him to shred if the potential for the program's own facility is realized.
Meanwhile, Notre Dame came in with Fuller, a Roman Catholic grad, as well as right tackle Mike McGlinchey (Penn Charter) and running back Josh Adams (Central Bucks West).
It's always going to be difficult to compete with a school like UND if its interested in a local kid but a few more national television games will up the visibility of the Temple program and could make it a more viable option for players in the future.
For all of those reasons, calling this the biggest football game in Temple history was anything buy hyperbole.
"Everything positive helps," Temple Athletic Director Dr. Patrick Kraft told 973espn.com. "What we have done is give everyone a taste of what big time college football is about. The atmosphere is electric right? But it was like this for the Penn State, Tulane and UCF games."
Actually it wasn't quite like this Doctor.
For once Temple belonged with the biggest of the big.
Now the plan is to stay there.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973ESPN.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen