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October 31, 2015

Temple shows it belongs but falls to Notre Dame on late score

PHILADELPHIA – They came in unbeaten, but nationally they were still an unknown.

The Temple University Owls aren't unbeaten anymore, but they are no longer a secret to the rest of the country.

In a college football game televised nationally, Temple lost a three-point lead in the final three minutes and fell to ninth-ranked Notre Dame 24-20 Saturday night.

“We don’t want to lose,’’ quarterback P.J. Walker said, “but at the same time we still have an opportunity to win the conference. (We proved) we can play with anybody out here. There’s a lot of great guys on this team who’s willing to go as far as they want.’’

MORE: GameDay cranks up fans for Temple vs. Notre Dame game

A crowd of 69,280 hung around to the end at Lincoln Financial Field, hoping for not only Temple’s but the entire city’s biggest college football victory.

A 75-yard drive, in just six plays, kept that from happening, but the loss was anything but a lost cause. Underdogs by 10 points, the Owls played like the junkyard dogs they are, barking, biting and believing.

“Couldn’t be prouder of our football team,’’ Temple coach Matt Rhule said. “I thought they fought, scratched, clawed, made some mistakes, but I think we proved we’re a pretty good football team, one of the better teams in the country.

“We had the game, we had [their] receivers on lock; they just made a play at the end," Tavon Young said. "[But] we showed the country we can play with anybody; from the start we knew, from the beginning of the season."

“I think Notre Dame’s made some great, great plays; they made one more play than we made. We kept battling, battling and battling until the last play. As I told them, this is a great moment to find out how good we are; everything we want to get done is in front of us.’’

With their record now 7-1, Temple finishes its regular season with four American Athletic Conference games; this Friday at SMU and then to South Florida on the 14th. The Owls' final two games are here, against unbeaten Memphis and UConn.

Notre Dame, 7-1, scored the winning points with 2:09 to play, on a 17-yard pass from quarterback DeShone Kiser to Roman Catholic grad Will Fuller. Notre Dame then locked it up with a diving interception with 1:08 to go.

Notre Dame finished with a total yardage of 467 while Temple was under 300. The Owls really couldn’t run the ball, with Jahad Thomas leading the ground game with 82 yards on 21 carries.

Walker was 13-for-30 with an interception and was sacked twice.

The Owls proved their own national ranking (No. 21) was legit, holding a 10-7 lead late in the second quarter before going off at the half trailing 14-7.

The Temple defense, which the locals insisted would keep it in the game, did just that, forcing consecutive punts and then stopping a drive near the goal line on an interception by lineman Praise Martin-Oguike.

Trailing 7-3 at the time, the Owls then went 94 yards in eight plays for the go-ahead score; a 12-yard pass play from Walker to wide receiver Brandon Shippen.

The Irish responded immediately following the kickoff, setting up shop at their own 12. On third down, Kizer decided to take matters into his own hands and out-raced everyone down the ND sideline, going 79 yards for a touchdown: 14-10.

Temple’s next possession ended in a punt. Notre Dame took over at the 15 and moved quickly downfield and had a first down at the Temple 11 with just a bit more than a minute before halftime.

A 21-10 score seemed imminent, but a pass deflected at the goal line was picked off by linebacker Tyler Matakevich at the 5.

The Temple defense came up big again early in the second half, making ND settle for a 23-yard field goal after having a first and goal at the three.

The third quarter ended with Temple down 17-10, but the Owls, with the aid of a targeting hit in the end zone, really sent down the thunder from the sky when they tied the score on a fourth and goal; running back Jahad Thomas swinging to the right to go in for the score.

The place really went crazy when Temple went ahead 20-17 on a 36-yard field goal by Austin Jones with 4:45 to play.

“We had the game, we had [their] receivers on lock; they just made a play at the end," Tavon Young said. "[But] we showed the country we can play with anybody; from the start we knew, from the beginning of the season."

The Owls will likely win the East Division, and if they finish with the best record they will host the championship game Dec. 5.

“As I told them before the game, this better not be the high point of our season,’’ Rhule said. “‘Game Day’ was awesome, our fans were awesome, our student section was awesome, everything was wonderful.’’

But they lost.

Was it a moral victory?

“No; not at all,’’ Rhule said. “There’s no moral victories because we’re not here to lose. And we’re gonna fight, scratch and claw and make sure we don’t lose any more.’’