Amid all the celebration in the stands on the day Temple finally beat Penn State, while alumni throughout the country who never thought they’d live to see this day also reveled in the moment, one prevailing thought ran through the victorious players’ minds.
Having ended a 39-game string of futility encompassing 74 years with a resounding 27-10 win that left no doubt, you’d think they might want to bask in the glory. But even after erasing an early 10-0 deficit, then sacking pre-season All-American candidate Christian Hackenberg 10 times while completely shutting down James Franklin’s team offense over the final three quarters to put an exclamation point on certainly the biggest win in school history, they were ready to move on.
"You can never be complacent," said star linebacker Tyler Matakevich, who recorded a career high three of those 10 sacks, to go with four other solo tackles. "That’s why our coaches keep saying ‘What’s next?’ That’s our mentality. You enjoy this, but come tomorrow it’s a new day."
Across the board that’s how it went. And no one was more pleased to hear it than Matt Rhule, who’s been preaching that gospel since Day One.
"I believe that we won - -besides having good players -- because they focused on themselves and not Penn State," said Rhule, who became only the third former Penn State player to beat his alma mater. “We didn’t play Penn State music. We didn’t have the scout team wear blue jerseys. We focused on us and the players bought into that. It’s about Temple, not Penn State. To be able to do that in this magnitude of game shows an unbelievable maturity."
At the same time he knew this wasn’t just any win.
"I know for our fans how important it is," said Rhule, whose team used last season’s deceiving 30-13 loss at Happy Valley, where they trailed just 6-3 at the half, as inspiration. "Wayne Hardin (the 88-year-old former Temple coach) sent me an email message. I am so thrilled for Coach Hardin and all our former players. This will help us in recruiting. It just won’t help us if we lose next week. That’s the truest test of what kind team we have. Hopefully this won’t be the highlight of our season. That’s the goal."
By the time the Owls get to AAC pre-season favorite Cincinnati Friday for their conference opener the euphoria will have long worn off. But if Temple can mount the kind of pass rush it did against Hackenberg, who had only one more completion on the day than times sacked and if Jahad Thomas ran resemble the back who rumbled for 135 yards and two touchdowns, the Owls will be ready to prove this wasn’t a fluke.
"Do I feel like was it a great win? Yes," said defensive end Haason Reddick, who had 1 ½ sacks. "Does it feel good to beat Penn State? Yes. But this win will be no different than any win we have. We just prepare for ‘em and play whoever lines up in front of us."
Which is why when things weren’t going their way early — as the Nittany Lions scored on their first two possessions, then forced a P.J. Walker and took over at the Temple 43 — Temple kept its poise.
"We were just calm,” said Reddick, as the Owls limited State to just four first downs and 92 net yards after the first period. "We never let the moment get too big for us. Our philosophy is ‘Just keep playing and don’t look at the scoreboard. When the clock hits zero, then you can look at the board. If we did what we’re supposed to do we’ll what the outcome is.'"
Temple couldn’t have asked for a better outcome, overcoming a shaky start that had folks wondering if a blowout was in the works to win going away. But now the Owls have to come down from the clouds.
"We just say 'what’s next'" echoed defensive end Sharif Finch, whose third quarter interception and return to the Penn State 2-yardline set up Walker’s one-yard keeper that put Temple ahead to stay, 17-10. “Every play has to be the most important play. We’re just playing our brand of football. But a lot of this has never happened before."
It’s happening now, though. After years of frustration — and skepticism -- Temple football has finally arrived.
Even better, it figures to hang around for awhile.