Throughout the day as Jullian Taylor, Sean Chandler, Sharif Finch and the rest of Temple’s seniors tried in vain to make their final home game at Lincoln Financial Field one to remember as they had so many times before, the memories kept flooding back.
Like the day they finally knocked off Penn State, ending a 74- year string of futility. Or the night they were at the center of the college football world, putting their 7-0 record on the line against vaunted Notre Dame and having the Irish on the ropes much of the night before ultimately falling short. And there was also the night they beat up on UConn to clinch the 2015 American Athletic Conference Eastern Division title and earn a spot in the AAC’s first title game.
They’d come so far from the time Matt Rhule — or in a few cases his predecessor Steve Addazio — had brought them to North Broad Street. And now, as they were systemically being dismantled by No. 15 ranked Central Florida, 45-19 Saturday, the realization this was their Linc swan song hit them hard.
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“It’s bittersweet,” said Finch, the fifth year senior defensive end who endured that first 2-10 season under Rhule when little seemed to go right. “I know we gave it our all today but I know I’m never gonna another play in this stadium with my teammates. We had a lot of good times here. One of my best memories is winning the championship in 20015. Holding that trophy and seeing those faces of my teammates, knowing we were going to the first AAC championship game. When I got here I didn’t know I’d be part of something special. I can’t say I expected that.”
Not many expected this Geoff Collins-led Temple team to repeat the first back-to-back 10-win seasons in school history. On the other hand to see the Owls stand 5-6 heading into their finale at Tulsa next Saturday wasn’t counted on either.
Temple was hoping the Linc might provide one last touch of magic for those seniors, who were embraced by Collins and his wife Jennifer, before heading out to face the potent Knights. But when the Owls turned it over three times in the second quarter, resulting in 17 points and a 31-13 halftime UCF lead, those hopes were virtually gone.
Now it comes down to beating Tulsa to make themselves 6-6 and bowl eligible, then crossing their fingers the Podunk Bowl or something slightly more attractive invites them to play one last game. And don’t even remind them when the 2014 Owls won at Tulane to finish 6-6 they were still spurned from the post-season.
“We all want that extra game. It would mean the world,” said Taylor, who had his best game in the cherry-and-white career with 10 tackles, 4.5 of them for yardage losses. “When we were bowl eligible and didn’t go to a bowl in 2014 I think back then we didn’t have any credibility. I think we have credibility now.”
Of course none of that will matter if they don’t take care of business against the Golden Hurricanes.
“We didn’t send the seniors out the way we wanted for their last home game on senior day,” said Collins, after Jr. quarterback Frank Nutile struggled through a 17-for-40 for 201 yards and four interception day. “But the goal is still out there to send these seniors out the right way for their careers, the all-time winning-est class. Get them bowl eligible. We’ve got a chance to make it right next week traveling down to Tulsa The goal is go 1-0 every week. That never changes. But I think everyone knows what’s on the line next Saturday. Some other ramifications come with it.”
Regardless of what transpires next weekend in Oklahoma, though it’s still Linc-ed Out for the seniors.
“I think about all the guys who came here before me,” said safety Sean Chandler, who had six solo tackles for a defense which was victimized by four touchdown passes by UCF’s McKenzie Milton. “I look up and see their names across the board. Hopefully one day my name can be one of those. What sticks out is we went through a lot of ups and downs here. Today was definitely a down point, but we’ll try to bounce back. We still have an opportunity to get to a bowl game and win a bowl game. We haven’t done that.”
Tulsa comes first. Then it’s wait and see for the seniors and all the other Owls who’ll have gone 3-1 down the stretch to impress those potentially reading their resume.
Hoping that it’s good enough to earn them one last senior hurrah.