Game Of Inches

Rutgers QB Gary Nova

The odds are are in a football team's favor to convert a fourth-and-inches or stop a fourth-and-10. If the Temple University football team had done either, it would have secured an impressive win on the road at regional rival Rutgers. But as the case has been for much of a frustrating season, the Owls defied the odds and turned apparent victory into defeat, falling to the Scarlet Knights, 23-20.

The odds are are in a football team's favor to convert a fourth-and-inches or stop a fourth-and-10.

If the Temple University football team had done either, it would have secured an impressive win on the road at regional rival Rutgers – a school headed for the Big 10 Conference next year – and captured the first American Athletic Conference victory in school history on Saturday.

But as the case has been for much of a frustrating season, the Owls defied the odds and turned apparent victory into defeat, falling to the Scarlet Knights, 23-20. Rutgers is 5-3 overall and 2-2 in the American, while the Owls fell to 1-8, 0-5.

Kenny Harper was stopped for a loss of a yard on fourth-and-inches at the Scarlet Knight 27-yard-line to give Rutgers the ball back trailing 20-16 with 1:50 left. A first down would have ended the game.

Then after a Nate Smith sack put the Scarlet Knights in an apparent fourth-and-15 situation, the Owls were penalized five yards for delay of game when freshman Sharif Finch picked up the football and didn't immediately return it to the officials because he thought he recovered a fumble.

Temple came on a blitz on fourth-and-10 from the Owls' 33 but Gary Nova found Leonte Carroo behind the defense for a touchdown with 35 seconds left in the game and Rutgers held on for a 23-20 victory.

"At the end of the day it came down to we had a chance to win that game, a game (Rutgers) wanted to win," said Temple's first-year head coach Matt Rhule. "It came down to that much at fourth and one. We were able to get that half yard and put it back in their hands. They found a way to win at the end.

"We'll take this and we'll learn from it. All the players are understanding how much better we are getting. At the same time, we have to get that half yard if we want to win. I'm disappointed for them, but my hats off to Rutgers. They fought back and played well. As we move forward, we're going to fight for that half yard."

Rhule said there wasn't any debate over the fourth-and-1 call. With the Owls' tenuous kicking situation – Nick Visco missed another extra point Saturday - a 44-yard field goal wasn't even an option.

"Just felt like we were controlling the line of scrimmage and we had to get that half yard," said Rhule. "That's hurt us the last couple of games, not being able to get short yardage when it counted."

Sophomore defensive lineman Matt Ioannidis, a Central Jersey native, said the defense had to take the blame for not being able to come up with a stop.

"That fourth-and-10, that last play of the game, the defense just pinned their ears back and tried to get to the quarterback," said Ioannidis. "It's frustrating but those things happen and that's what happens when you blitz. There's always a risk of coverage and I know this defense played hard, but it's on us."

The Owls led almost from the start with freshman and Elizabeth, N.J. native P.J. Walker finding top target Robby Anderson for a 26-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter. Temple led 13-3 at the half after a Harper 4-yard reception.

Nova threw a pair of touchdown passes, the second to Caroo with 14:03 left in the game for a 16-13 Scarlet Knight lead, but the Owls answered less than four minutes later on Harper's 25-yard TD run.

Walker finished 21-of-31 for 203 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. The embattled Nova, who nearly lost his job after a poor performance against Houston last week, was 27-for-38 for 371 yards and three touchdowns without an interception.

Temple has been close to victory before. In the third game of the year against Fordham, the Rams converted two fourth downs by inches and scored on a 29-yard touchdown pass with four seconds left.

The Owls also saw a 28-7 lead disappear a week ago against SMU and had chances in close defeats to Houston and Idaho.

Rhule, an Owls' assistant for six years, said the feeling was similar to 2008 when Temple gave up a Hail Mary to Buffalo on the last play of the game and yielded a last-minute defensive touchdown to Navy after a fumble. The defeats cost the Owls a bowl bid as they finished 5-7, but the next year they went 9-4.

"It hurts a lot, but we're all learning from it," said Walker. "We're taking it all in and making sure it never happens again next year or the next three games. We'll learn from this and be prepared for the next time it happens.

"We're a young team, but this should never happen. We had them on the ropes, fourth-and-10 and fourth-and-one. We just have to make sure we come out next time this happens and be the ones that come out on top."

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