Oh, yeah. There’s still a football game to play.
The Military Bowl — not theDistraction Bowl —will pitTemple againstWake Forest Tuesday in Annapolis. It is clear that football has been the last thing on both teams' minds since the matchup was announced Dec. 4.
That day Matt Rhule was still coaching the Owls, basking in the glow of winning the AAC Championship over Navy. That day Dave Clawson of the 6-6 Demon Deacons didn’t have to wonder if the team’s disgruntled radio analyst was passing his game plans on to other teams.
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So you can excuse their players if X’s and O’s have been somewhat neglected since. There’s been a lot to process for both sides.
For Temple it’s been the shock of Rhule’s sudden departure for Baylor, followed a week later by the hiring of Florida defensive coordinator Geoff Collins as his replacement. All the while longtime assistant Ed Foley has had to run an unsteady ship, making it somehow fitting they should return to the home of the Naval Academy for this one.
Keep in mind there’s history at stake for the 10-3 Owls who’ve won seven straight coming into this one.
“That 11th win,” said Foley, whose Temple coaching era will begin and end Tuesday. They want to be the best Temple team ever.“When they got here they all had warts on them. They were a little too slow or a little too small. They didn’t get recruited at this or that place for one reason or another. But they meshed and jelled together here.
"As much stuff as they’ve gone through it changes when you get on the field and have something to compete for. Now they’re saying, ‘We’re gonna be the best team to ever wear a Temple uniform.'”
It’s fair to question whether or not Wake Forest has enough to deny them. Since starting out 5-1, they’ve hit the skids, losing five of their last six, including a 44-12 game to Louisville where Tommy Elrod, a former Demon Deacon player, then assistant, before going to the broadcast booth, passed significant bits of inside information. When reports of the transgression began to surface, Wake launched a full scale investigation.
Meanwhile, Clawson has been trying to get his team’s heads into this game — and Temple. It’s anyone’s guess how successful that’s been
But that’s not Temple’s worry, as 17 seniors including Philip Walker, Jahad Thomas, Haason Reddick,Avery Williams, Dion Dawkins and Nate Hairston prepare for their final game. Playing close to home, the Owls figure to have a bigger fan base coupled with good vibes returning to a stadium where they had success just a few weeks ago.
“It’s a little bittersweet being the last one,” conceded Thomas, whose 2,564 yards rushing —912 on 200 carries this year — ranks sixth in school history, with a chance to move up as high as fourth with a big game. “But we’re looking forward to it. We’re starting to get into the flow of things.”
When Walker, now Temple’s career passing leader with 10,272 yards and 72 touchdowns and Thomas — along with Ryquell Armstrong (918 yards and 14 TDs) — get in gear, the Owls have proven to be a formidable obstacle. Add a defense, which took a while to recover from the loss of All-American Tyler Matakevitch and Matt Ionnidis, before becoming one of the best in the nation and the Demon Deacons have their work cut out.
Come Tuesday, though —assuming they can put aside the distractions and focus on the task at hand looking for the Owls to soar to new heights.