December 22, 2015 – With a combined 15 points going into the half, the Temple Owls (10-4) and the Toledo Rockets (10-2) were locked in a defensive battle on Tuesday night, Dec. 22, at the 2015 Boca Raton Bowl. Toledo’s senior quarterback Phillip Ely rallied the Rockets in the fourth quarter to clinch a 32-17 win over No. 24 Temple despite the Owls valiant stab at a fourth-quarter comeback.
In his last game with Toledo, Ely threw for 285 yards and two touchdowns, which earned him the Offensive MVP honor as well as Jason Candle’s first victory in his debut as the Rockets’ head coach. On the other side, Temple’s quarterback P.J. Walker threw for 236 yards but was unable to put up any touchdowns. The Owls’ 17 points came off the foot of sophomore kicker Austin Jones.
The defense on both sides set the tone for the game. Temple linebacker Tyler Matakevich, the Bednarik and Nagurski Award winner for College Defensive Player of the Year, finished his career with a game-high 12 tackles, setting a new Temple record with 493 total stops. The Toledo defense held the Owls to 67 yards of total offense in the first half. Sophomore Ja’Wuan Woodley, who had a key safety in the first half, was named the game’s Defensive MVP. Seniors Chase Murdock and Trent Voss paced the front seven with 11 and 10 tackles, respectively.
Things started to heat up in the fourth quarter. Toledo broke open a close game with an 80-yard touchdown pass from Ely to wide receiver Cody Thompson to make the score 19-9 with 12:41 left. A Kareem Hunt one-yard TD with less than six minutes left gave UT a comfortable 25-9 lead.
However, Temple came back and put together an 11-play, 68-yard drive and converted a two-point conversion to cut the lead to 25-17. The Owl onside kick that followed was battled over for two minutes before UT’s Thompson came out with the ball. Hunt broke free for a 41-yard score to give Toledo its final margin. A last-gasp Temple drive ended on downs with 40 seconds left.
The Owls were without the services of leading rusher Jahad Thomas, CB Tavon Young and LB Avery Williams, who exited the game at the half. They entered the game without Alex Wells as the first team all-conference safety suffered a hamstring injury earlier in the week.
After the teams traded punts to open up the game, Temple pinned Toledo to their own one-yard line. Starting at their own 48-yard line, Temple used a 13-play 40-yard drive, ending with a 29-yard Jones field goal to get on the board and take a 3-0 lead with 1:13 left in the quarter. Although UT’s offense moved the ball effectively through the air, as Ely hit on 15-of-21 passes for 168 yards.
Following a career-long 64-yard punt by Nick Ellis that pushed Temple back to its own nine-yard line, Rocket linebacker Woodley hit Thomas at the three-yard line, causing a fumble that went out of the back of end zone for a safety.
Toledo then took over at its own 45-yard line on the ensuing free kick, setting the stage for UT’s first touchdown. On the fifth play of the drive, Corey Jones took a short pass from Ely and fought through three tackles for a 26-yard touchdown to put Toledo up, 9-3, with 12:16 left in the second quarter.
Toledo tacked on a field goal as time expired to take a 12-3 lead into halftime. The Rockets forced a three-and-out from Temple, taking over at their own 42-yard line. Two big plays, including a 26-yard pass from Ely to Michael Roberts put Toledo in field goal range, where Jameson Vest made it a nine-point Rockets lead with a 38-yard field goal.
Temple opened the second half with an eight-play 67-yard drive, capped by an Austin Jones field goal, cutting the lead to 12-6. A 40-yard pass from Walker to wide receiver Ventell Bryant and a 13-yard rush from Brandon Shippen, set up Jones for a 25-yard FG, his 22nd of the season, setting a new single-season school record. Jones passed Don Bitterlich’s 1975 total to take over first on the all-time Temple list.
Following a three-and-out by the Rockets, Temple came right back with another Jones field goal, this time from 35 yards out, further trimming the lead to 12-9 with 6:11 left in the third quarter. Sean Chandler started the Owls at midfield with a 12-yard punt return and Walker added a 14-yard rush to set up Jones’ score.
Toledo marched down the field on their next possession, getting to Temple’s 44-yard line. On a 3rd and 12, Temple strong safety Nate L. Smith broke up a pass in the end zone, keeping Toledo off the board.
The teams traded punts to open the fourth quarter, with Alex Starzyk booting a career-best 71-yarder for Temple. However, the kick was out of the reach of the Temple defense, trickling into the end zone for a touchback. On the next play, Ely hit Thompson on a play-action pass over the middle and Thompson pulled away from the Owl defender for an 80-yard touchdown to give UT a 10-point cushion, 19-9, with 12:41 to play.
Temple got down to the Toledo 34 on its next possession, but Walker’s pass was broken up by senior safety Rolan Milligan and was intercepted by the Rockets’ Juwan Haynes at the 26-yard line. From there, Toledo put together a 74-yard drive that took 5:31 off the clock, ending with a one-yard TD run from Hunt. The Owls blocked the extra point, setting the score to 25-9 with 5:46 to play.
After the Toledo score, Temple recorded its first touchdown of the game, capping an 11-play, 68-yard drive with a two-yard run from tight end Kip Patton. Shippen had two big catches on the drive, and was thrown to as Toledo was flagged for pass interference in the end zone, setting up the touchdown. Temple elected to go for two, and Walker scrambled out of pressure and somehow found Robby Anderson in the end zone, making it an eight-point game, 25-17, with 2:50 on the clock.
Temple went for the onside kick, but the referees signaled that Toledo came up with the ball under a pile of players at midfield. Hunt then tacked on an insurance score for the Rockets, scoring from 41-yards out to put the game out of reach at 32-17 with just 2:29 on the clock.
The Owls had one more possession before the clock ran out, but the drive stalled at the Toledo 27-yard line, ending the game 32-17 in Toledo’s favor.