Oh, so close!
Irish eyes are nearly crying after Temple gave them the Halloween scare of their lives Saturday night, before fabled Notre Dame rallied to pull out a 24-20 win that couldn’t help but impress the rest of the country.
Not so much about the 7-1 Fighting Irish, who turned it over twice in the red zone and seemed on the ropes before putting together the game-winning six-play, 75- yard drive. But if ever a losing team showed it belonged on the same field with the big boys, it was Matt Rhule’s gang, who insist the sting of defeat will be long gone by the time they take on SMU in Dallas Friday.
And yet if Notre Dame doesn’t convert a key third-and-four pass to Philly native Will Fuller moments after Temple had taken a 20-17 lead on Austin Jones’ 36-yard field goal, leading to Fuller hauling in DeShone Kizer’s 17-yard strike for the game winner three plays later, we might be having an entirely different conversation.
“We know how we messed up,” said defensive Praise Martin-Oguike, whose red zone interception went for naught as the Owls fell to 7-1, though they remain atop the American Conference East at 4-0. “We should’ve won the game.
“They’re a great team, but we’re a great team, too. It came down to who made the last play.”
It did, but throughout the night it was apparent Notre Dame simply had too much speed and athleticism for the Owls. Kizer’s dazzling 79-yard touchdown run off a fake to his back that froze the defense for just an instant — coming moments after the Owls had nudged in front —was a perfect example. At the other end Irish defenders consistently ran down Temple backs and receivers who seemingly were in the clear.
Still, this one was there for the taking. Even though for the first time all season the Owls couldn’t finish the job, it won’t diminish from the message they sent to potential recruits or anyone else watching from home.
“We can play with anybody in the country,” said Jahad Thomas, who rumbled for 82 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries, but dropped a key third down pass that forced Temple to settle for a field goal when a touchdown might’ve put the Irish away. “We knew that a lot of people had us as the underdog.
“We but we love having that chip on our shoulder. That’s kind of the brand of Philly. “
That’s what made this one so appealing on a national scope, bringing ESPN’s GameDay crew to Independence Mall and bringing long-suffering Temple alumni out of the closet. Billed as “Rocky vs. Rudy” it wasn’t that long ago Temple was the proverbial ‘Little Sisters of the Poor,” while Notre Dame was “Winning one for the Gipper’’ under Knute Rockne.
Saturday had all the elements for the classic upset, which would’ve not only propelled the Owls to 8-0 for the first time but might’ve landed them in the top 15. But while their dreams of an unbeaten season are gone, Rhule wants them to realize there’s still much to accomplish.
“I told them before the game that this better not be the high point of our season,” said Rhule, whose No. 23 ranked club holds a two-game Division lead over Cincinnati and South Florida, with a trip to USF following SMU. "This was a great couple of days. Game Day was awesome. Our fans were awesome. If our team wasn’t sure how good they were, they know now.
“But there are no moral victories. We’re not here to lose. We have to go finish it now.”
A loss won’t change that “what’s next” mindset they’ve been spouting all season.
“We’re definitely disappointed, because we had them,” said senior linebacker Tyler Matakevich, who was in on 13 tackles and had an interception. “But our goal all along has been to win the conference championship.
“At the end of the day this game has no effect on it. Well watch the film and see what we did wrong and get it corrected.”
And try to not to think just how close Temple came to turning those smiling Irish eyes into tears.