Right around the time they were breathing a huge sigh of relief in Happy Valley on Saturday night, up on North Broad St. at Temple, they were kicking themselves. Unlike Penn State’s nationally ranked Nittany Lions against Appalachian State, Geoff Collins Owls’ could not avoid the upset, blowing a late lead and losing to neighborhood rival Villanova, 19-17 at Lincoln Financial Field.
In reality, Temple was outplayed most of the game and probably didn’t deserve to win this one. But a blocked field goal turned into a 74-yard touchdown the other way to cut a 10-point first half deficit to 3 swinging the momentum. The Owls went on to take a four-point third-quarter lead and seemed to be in command.
However, they weren’t, as the Wildcats rallied in the fourth, getting a spectacular 30-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Zack Bednarczyk on 4th and 9, who avoided a heavy pass rush, rolled left and found wide receiver Jarrett McClenton on the run.
Nova then sealed the deal with two late interceptions to pull off its biggest regular-season win since knocking off the Owls in 2009.
That, of course, was the season Andy Talley’s troops won the FCS national championship.
No one’s saying Mark Ferrante’s 2018 crew is headed for such lofty heights. But he conceded after the game, that this win was a big deal.
“I can’t tell you how much this means to our program,” said Ferrante, whose No. 19 ranked club figures to get a boost in the FCS polls. “Anytime you get a win against an FBS opponent that’s huge.”
“We do always try to talk about it’s not who we’re playing though. It’s how we’re playing and we’re doing,” he added.
“But it just means a little more I guess nationally and those types of things to play up a level and come out with a victory. We’ve been close a lot of times and have some wins in our past, but to get this win against a team that’s a local Philadelphia team as well it’s really sweet right now.”
Undoubtedly, it was a sour loss for the Owls, though no different from any other, they insisted afterward.
“Whether you’re playing Villanova or Alabama it’s the same thing,” said Temple quarterback Frank Nutile, who blamed himself for making some poor throws, going 18-for-32 for 185 yards with a touchdown pass and two interceptions.
“Losing is going to hurt no matter what. But they’re always one of top FCS teams in the country. They’re extremely well coached and disciplined. They were able to outplay us today.”
Scoring on their first two offensive possessions—drives of 70 and 76 yards respectively—which culminated in Bednarczyk touchdown passes to tight end Ryan Bell and wide receiver Brandon Chadbourn—Villanova bolted to a quick 13-3 lead.
But once the offense bogged down and Drew Kresge’s subsequent 31-yard field goal attempt was not only blocked—Temple’s NCAA-leading 19th blocked kick since 2014—but taken to the house by cornerback Kimere Brown, it became a different game.
When Nutile hooked up with Isaiah Wright from 15 yards out late in the third quarter, the Owls had their first lead, 17-13. They seemed poised to extend that on their next possession, only to see kicker Aaron Boumheri, who earlier had hit from 46 yards out, shank a 29-yard try.
Ten plays later, Nova was back on top to stay, erasing the sting of last year’s 16-13 loss to the Owls.
“I remember I was leaving here last year with such a sour taste in my mouth,” recalled linebacker Jeff Steeb. “That last pick and now being up here it’s a totally different feeling. It was just a great team win and I’m happy to be a part of Villanova football for my fifth year.”
The numbers bore that out, Villanova outgained Temple 405-251, including a lopsided 151-46 on the ground. But their shaky special teams play—two blocked kicks and a missed extra point—nearly cost them.
“You saw what it almost did to us today,” said a relieved Ferrante, who next takes on Lehigh in the home opener while Temple hosts Buffalo. “It probably should’ve been more than a two-point game if we were able to manage the time a little better just before the half.”
“A win’s a win, it’s in that column, and whether it’s two points or 20 points doesn’t matter to me, he added.”
However, just as for 0-1 Temple, unable to pull off the kind of miracle finish Penn State did, a loss is a loss.