December 7, 2014.
It is a date that has been stuck in the mind of this current Temple senior class. A day after defeating Tulane and becoming bowl-eligible, the team found out they would not be going to a bowl game. That is the moment that the senior class made it its mission to not only become bowl eligible but to leave its mark on the program’s history. This group of seniors accomplished their mission on Saturday night, defeating the UConn Huskies 27-3. The team won by doing what they focus on the most: Running the ball effectively, playing good special teams and playing sound defense.
“I was proud of our guys because we won this game,” Temple Head Coach Matt Rhule said after the game. “It was a championship game. To win the East is a big deal to us and to be in the first ever championship game is a big deal. The rewards are great, but I want to see us play great in big moments, and I thought we did that tonight.”
“Congratulations to Temple on representing our half of the conference in the championship game next weekend” said UConn Head Coach Bob Diaco. “Hats off to them and the season they put together. It was a poor performance for us on offense tonight and our defense was exposed too much. We just can’t play football like that because we will have no chance to win. It’s 2015, you need yards and points and if not, it’s just too hard to beat a quality opponent.”
Linebacker Tyler Matakevich, playing in his last home game as an Owl, had the opportunity to play against his home college, the one that did not offer him a scholarship. He finished with ten tackles and a sack.
“It was awesome. I wasn’t worried UConn at all. We were just worried about ourselves. We just keep reminding each other that it’s all about us. You can’t worry about things you can’t control. You can worry about things you can control like how you play.”
The Owls offense was able to show balance. The offensive line controlled the line of scrimmage tonight. The job that the line and tight ends did allowed the skill position players to have good nights. Quarterback P.J. Walker threw for 160 yards and a touchdown pass. Running back Jahad Thomas, who has been slowed by injuries seemed to have an extra burst of quickness. He ran the ball 20 times for 129 yards and two touchdowns. Senior wide receivers Brandon Shippen and Robby Anderson were Walker’s favorite targets. The two combined for ten catches and 87 yards. Shippen has been performing well late in the season and has been another weapon for the Owls offense.
“We’ve worked hard the last few years to get here” Shippen stated. “Just to see all this happen is mind boggling.”
Temple can only enjoy the division championship for a little bit. The team will have to prepare for the Houston Cougars. The Cougars defeated Navy on Friday to earn a spot in the championship game. One thing that has been proven so far is that Matakevich and the rest of the seniors will keep the team focused on Saturday’s game.
“This is an amazing feeling. I don’t think that it has hit me yet. Once you see that trophy finally in your hands, there’s no greater feeling than that but you can’t be satisfied. We are in the championship. We did not work hard all year just to get there. You want to win. We’ll enjoy this tonight, but we have the conference championship next week. I’m excited, and I know these guys are excited. We will be ready to work.”
There were many firsts that occurred under this senior class. The first class to defeat Penn State since 1941. They were the first senior class to be the College Football Game of the Week against Notre Dame. After tonight, they can now add one more important distinction. They are the first team to win an AAC division title.
Can they extend the season of firsts next week in Houston? Nobody knows for sure. One thing is certain. When the ball is in the air at noon, this senior class has proven that it is one of the best groups in Temple football history.