Kenneth Harper’s 1-yard plunge made it 14-0 Temple.
By Lewis Gould
Temple hadn’t beaten a nationally ranked team in 16 years, Virginia Tech in 1998.
And prior to that, it was 1987, when the Owls beat Pitt.
So, what the Owls achieved yesterday before 22,130 at Lincoln Financial Field — beating 21st-ranked East Carolina 20-10 — will be the highlight of an up-and-down 2014.
Unless, of course, the 5-3 Owls manage to make a bowl, a distinct possibility.
The Pirates killed themselves by losing five fumbles and with more than 100 yards in penalties and some costly turnovers, and Temple improved to 5-3 overall and 3-2 in the American Athletic Conference and substantially helped its chance of grabbing a bowl berth, while East Carolina fell to 6-2 and 3-1 in the AAC.
“I thought we did exactly what we had to do to win that game,” Temple coach Matt Rhule said. “Two things, we had to be extremely competitive, which I think we were, and we didn’t back down in man-to-man coverage, zone coverage. Guys got off blocks and we didn’t panic when they made a play. Secondly, we’re extremely unselfish.
“The offensive kids, I was telling we’re going to run the ball three times and take four more minutes off the clock and put it in the defense’s hands. I know sometimes they didn’t want to do it, we had guys running open. I know it was an unselfish team win.”
East Carolina, which entered the game fourth in the nation with an average of 566.9 yards a game, was stymied by five turnovers, and Temple held Pirates’ quarterback Shane Carden to 216 yards passing.
Carden had thrown for more than 400 yards in four of the Pirates’ last five games.
“We didn’t take them lightly at all, we just didn’t play our best,” said Carden, who completed 24 of 41 passes for 217 yards, and was sacked four times. “It was a little tough in the first half. The conditions were bad, but they were bad for them, too, and we shot ourselves in the foot with it.
“We got a feel for it, but it’s not like either of us were practicing in rainy, windy cold weather and they handled it better than we did. We have to correct (the penalties); we can’t have any more penalties like that.”
The Pirates still moved the ball well, outgaining Temple, 431-142, in total yards. But the 10 points were a season-low for the Pirates, who entered the game leading the AAC by averaging 39.6 points a game.
“This was both sides of the ball, and everyone rose to the occasion,” Temple linebacker Tyler Matakevich said. “Everyone did their job. Coach told us from the beginning, it would be a defensive game.
“We had a rough two past weeks and everyone bought in. Everyone settled down. If you create turnovers and stop big plays, good things can happen.”
Temple led 14-3 at halftime, made possible by the first two East Carolina fumbles.
The Owls had the edge, despite being outgained, 236-52, in total yards in the half. East Carolina pounded the Owls for 17 first downs, to a mere three for Temple.
East Carolina fumbled four times in the first half, and lost three, two that resulted in both Temple touchdowns.
East Carolina’s first miscue came on its second possession. Running back Breon Allen fumbled at the Temple 37, and Tavon Young scooped up the loose ball and returned it for a 63-yard touchdown.
On the Pirates’ next possession, Allen fumbled again, and Temple converted it into another score on Ken Harper’s 1-yard run. That was it for the Owls offensively, with 40 of their 52 total yards coming on that series.
With the exception of the three fumble recoveries, Temple never crossed midfield in the first half. The Pirates averaged 4.7 yards a play in the half, while Temple averaged 2.4 yards a play.
East Carolina is left to regroup, after committing 12 penalties for 120 yards and fumbling the ball seven times, losing five.
“We made mistakes, unusual mistakes and both teams had to play in the same weather, but I thought it bothered us,” Pirates’ coach Ruffin McNeill said.
“We haven’t lost that many fumbles the whole year. That’s something we need to overcome. It’s the same way with the penalties. We have to find a way to emphasize that even more, if possible. But we will.”