PHILADELPHIA, PA 9/7/2013 – The University of Houston Cougars amassed 524 yards of offense moving up and down the field with their no-huddle offense. When Houston got to within the Temple 20 yard line, the red zone, the Owls defense stopped the Cougars from crossing the goal line to keep the game close. Houston visited the red zone eight times, but could only score four field goals. Twice, Temple turned the visitors away without points holding on downs and recovering a fumble. However, the Owls got two touchdowns in the first half and missed scoring opportunities. Houston got an interception and a 10 yard touchdown run by Running Back Ryan Jackson within the last two minutes to earn a 22 – 13 win at the Linc in the first American Athletic Conference football game.
“I am disappointed for our guys because I know how badly they wanted to win that game,” said Temple Coach Matt Rhule. “They (Houston) had 96 plays and a lot of yards. Our defense was on the field fifty-eight minutes and they gave us a chance to win. On offense you’re not going to win the game if you miss an extra point and a field goal. We turned the ball over, but our defense bailed us out with a great goal stand.”
The pattern of the game emerged early. Temple went ahead 6 – 3 on a 1 yard touchdown run by junior running back Kenny Harper with 1:39 left in the first quarter. In the second quarter Houston took the ball after a punt at their 22 yard line. Nine plays later the Cougars were one yard away from a touchdown, but got no closer. Kicker Richie Leone made one of his five field goals on the day to tie the score at 6. Later in the quarter Houston got back to the Temple one yard line only to settle for a field goal after two straight incomplete passes. Temple responded with another Harper touchdown, his fourth of the season and is the only Owl player to score a touchdown on the campaign. His score sent Temple into the locker room holding a 13 – 9 advantage.
The Cougars took the second half kickoff driving to the Temple 10 yard line, but would only gain three more. Leone converted from 24 yards to cut the deficit to 13 – 12 with 11:56 left in the quarter. Houston took the ball back in the ensuing drive when Temple junior quarterback Connor Reilly was sacked and fumbled. Trevon Stewart recovered for Houston at the Temple 8 yard line. The Cougars tried to pound the ball across the goal line, but the Owls held firm. On fourth and one at the one running back Justin Hicks was stopped at the goal line by sophomore linebacker Tyler Matakevich and senior free safety Abdul Smith.
“The defense played excellent today,” said Matakevich. “Last they got the better of it, but this is the best defense that we have played all year. I definitely felt that we came together. Every time something happened to change the game, our defense stepped up.”
The Owls could not move the ball and the Cougars took control 36 yards away from a touchdown. Again, Houston got no closer than the Temple three yard line. Leone would split the uprights from 22 yards giving his team a 15 – 13 lead with 5:33 to play in the third quarter.
Temple appeared ready to take the lead back as they took the ball at their 14 yard line. Short passes mixed with the run got the ball to the Houston 11. Then mistakes would haunt the Owls as penalties and incomplete passes forced a 25 yard field goal attempt by senior kicker Paul Layton that sailed wide.
“I just pushed it left, no excuses,” said Layton.
“If we make that field goal it’s a different game,” Rhule said. “We go up 16 – 15, we’re not throwing the ball down the middle of the field.”
Houston kept the lead even though another fumble recovery set Temple up at the visitors 35 yard line.
The Cougars took the ball back after a punt early in the fourth quarter. Behind a 15 play drive Houston was at the Temple 6 looking for the clinching touchdown. It appeared they would get it as quarterback John O’Korn ran toward the goal from the six yard line. He was met at the one Smith who shook the ball loose. Junior cornerback Anthony Robey pounced on the fumble turning Houston away again.
“My responsibility was the quarterback,” Smith said. “I found him and got a good hit and forced the fumble.
“We wanted to hold them out of the end zone. If we can hold them to three points that’s good for us. There were some cases where they got zero points. We have to work on that.”
Temple tried to create a game-winning drive, but could not get into Houston territory. With 2:30 to play Temple took the ball at their 8 yard line. The Owls made their way to the 22 yard line, then Reilly was intercepted by safety Adrian McDonald at the 48 yard line, McDonald returned the interception to the 12, and this time the Cougars got the elusive touchdown as Jackson’s 10 yard touchdown run ended the contest. Jackson ran for 109 yards in the game.
“I didn’t protect the ball today, and that was my main focus,” said Reilly. “Two interceptions and a fumble at the goal line, that was brutal. We have to score more points, and that is on the offense and myself. We have to put the ball in the end zone more.
If the field was 90 yards long, Houston would have held a bigger lead. But the Temple defense kept it close. O’Korn completed 23 of 31 passes for 233 yards. Wide receiver Deontay Greenberry caught 14 passes for 165 yards. The Cougars ran for 219 yards, and advanced the ball 305 yards in air. Temple rushed for 100 yards and Reilly passed for 200 yards completing 20 of 38 passes. He was picked off twice. The defense bent but did not break. Smith recorded 12 tackles, 9 solo. Matakevich also had 9 solo tackles, 11 for the game. And the Owls defenders performed against a no-huddle, hurry-up offense.
“It was tough,” said senior linebacker Blaze Caponegro. “We practiced against the hurry-up. Houston, they do it the best. I thought we did a good job with it. That is one of our goals when we get to the red zone, we want to hold them to a field goal or less. Guys hung in there. Although we were tired, we came together and played through it.”
After losses to Notre Dame and Houston the Owls look for their first win of the Rhule era next week as they host Fordham on September 14. To do that Rhule believes his team must eliminate their mistakes.
“We didn’t have the same looseness we did last week,” Rhule said. “I told the players this team will be back, and we will continue to get better. There are come thing we have to correct. We can’t have turnovers and penalties. There are things we have to get better at, and I know we will.”
Written By: Glenn Papazian