Temple Owls impress the nation in close loss to Notre Dame

Oct 31, 2015; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Temple Owls linebacker Tyler Matakevich (8) intercepts the ball against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during the first half at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Stellar defense and gritty offensive playmakers keep Temple in the game till the end against Notre Dame.

Stellar defense and gritty offensive playmakers keep Temple in the game till the end against Notre Dame.

Oct 31, 2015; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Temple Owls linebacker Tyler Matakevich (8) intercepts the ball against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during the first half at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 31, 2015; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Temple Owls linebacker Tyler Matakevich (8) intercepts the ball against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during the first half at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

PHILADELPHIA, (C+P) — The script was set. The home team is down 24-20 in the fourth quarter. The team is playing one of the most storied franchises in the country. The team had been able to move the ball down the field on the visiting team. It could have been a program-defining win. The home team’s wide receiver broke open and was about to make the catch. And then, the pass is intercepted. There was no miracle in Philadelphia. The Temple Owls suffered their first loss of the season, falling to Notre Dame 24-20.

“I couldn’t be prouder of our football team,” Temple Head Coach Matt Rhule said after the game. “As I told them, I thought they fought, scratched and clawed. We made some mistakes, but I think we proved we are a really good football team against one of the better teams in the country.”

Notre Dame started out the game with a successful opening drive. DeShone Kiser ran the ball in for a touchdown giving the Irish a 7-0 lead. Temple would later get a field goal from Austin Jones to make the score 7-3. The Owls would take the lead on a 12 yard P.J. Walker pass to Brandon Shippen. On the play, Shippen had to twist around to get the ball over the goal line to procure the score. Notre Dame would then answer with Kizer’s second touchdown run of the night, a 79-yard read-option run.

Temple Owls runningback Jahad Thomas (5) ran for 93 yeards on 21 carries against Notre Dame. (Zamani Feelings - Coach & Player Magazine)
Temple Owls runningback Jahad Thomas (5) ran for 93 yeards on 21 carries against Notre Dame. (Zamani Feelings – Coach & Player Magazine)

At the beginning of the third quarter, Notre Dame added a Justin Yoon field goal to make it 17-10 Notre Dame. Temple had one of their most important drives of their season, culminating with a 1 yard run by Jahad Thomas. After the touchdown, the raucous crowd of 69,280 people became energized. The stage was set for the upset.

Temple held on to a 20-17 lead in the fourth quarter when Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer found Philadelphia-native Will Fuller in the corner of the end zone for a touchdown.

“We will look back and see things we could have done differently” senior linebacker Tyler Matakevich said. Matakevich had 13 tackles, one tackle for loss and an interception. “We are definitely disappointed. We had them. It was on us and being a defensive guy, when you look at it, we had some mistakes. We will work on them and get them fixed.”

On the ensuing kickoff, Temple had a chance to answer the Fighting Irish’s score. Temple quarterback P.J. Walker scrambled out of the pocket and ran for 15 yards. After an incompletion and an eight-yard catch and a personal foul call against the Owls, Walker dropped back to pass. Wide receiver John Christopher started to break open.

“John was running free by himself,” Walker said. “I noticed the corner, but I felt I could squeeze it in there.”

Walker threw the ball, and Christopher stretched his hands out to grab it. The big play Temple wanted was right there. The miracle drive would continue to go on. Notre Dame cornerback KeiVarae Russell had other plans. He dove for the ball and intercepted the pass.

Oct 31, 2015; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish cornerback KeiVarae Russell (6) intercepts a pass intended for Temple Owls wide receiver John Christopher (7) in the fourth quarter at Lincoln Financial Field. Notre Dame won 24-20 Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 31, 2015; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish cornerback KeiVarae Russell (6) intercepts a pass intended for Temple Owls wide receiver John Christopher (7) in the fourth quarter at Lincoln Financial Field. Notre Dame won 24-20 Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

“He made a great play,” said Walker “If he would have never dove for the ball, it probably would have been a touchdown.”

The drive was over and Temple chances to complete the upset was finished.

Although they were not able to win the game, there was one sentence that Matt Rhule said that should have people who follow the program feeling good about the direction of the program and why the future looks bright.

“There are no moral victories. We are not here to lose.”

In the past, not being blown out by a highly-ranked team would have been enough to celebrate. Now, Rhule expects his team to not only compete, but to win those games.

The loss does not hurt Temple’s chances of getting of winning the American Athletic Conference. Temple has to focus their attention quickly toward SMU. The Owls will travel to Dallas and play the Mustangs Friday night. This may not be the last time Temple plays a team in The Associated Press Top 25 team. It is unclear what will happen between now and the end of the bowl season. One thing is sure, they have captured the attention of the city of Philadelphia and made college football relevant again. That in itself is a miracle.

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