Most of the afternoon couldn’t have been more miserable for quarterback Anthony Russo and the Temple offense. They generated just 128 yards through the first three quarters. For the game, Russo threw three interceptions, including two in the fourth quarter that appeared to doom the Owls.
Yet Russo kept grinding and the light finally began to shine, with little time to spare. Russo hit Branden Mack with a 20-yard touchdown with 49 seconds left in regulation to tie the score and found Isaiah Wright for the eventual 25-yard winning strike in overtime.
After Wright’s score, Temple linebacker Shaun Bradley’s interception sealed the improbable 24-17 win over No. 20 Cincinnati on Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field.
“All I wanted was the offensive line and receivers to trust me,” said Russo, who finished 20-of-41 for 237 yards and three touchdowns in addition to the three interceptions.
The trust paid off.
Temple (5-3, 4-0 American Athletic Conference) will enter their bye week with a good feeling before visiting No. 10 Central Florida on Nov. 1.
Temple has beaten a ranked team in four of the last five seasons.
Squandering chances all afternoon, Temple finally tied the score at 17 when Russo hit Mack on third down with a 20-yard touchdown pass. Will Mobley’s conversion kick tied the score with 49 seconds left in regulation. That capped a seven-play, 75 yard drive.
On the touchdown, Ventell Bryant set a pick that freed Mack, who was wide open and caught the ball in the end zone.
“Their guy just jumped the route,” said Mack, who has a team-high four touchdown receptions.
Mack and Russo made the most of it.
“When I threw it I thought I overthrew it but he ran right underneath it,” Russo said.
In overtime, Temple had the first possession, and Russo hit Wright in stride for a 25-yard touchdown on third down.
Was Wright the No. 1 option on the play?
“I think so,” Wright said. “I don’t know how accurate the answer is. but I know me and Russo have a good connection; and I ran the route to win and, hopefully, the ball was going to come to me, and it did.”
On its overtime series, Cincinnati (6-1, 2-1) got a first down on an 11-yard run by Michael Warren to the 14-yard line. Temple defensive end Zach Mesday then sacked Desmond Ridder for an 11-yard loss after a muffed snap. On second down, Ridder threw an incomplete pass, and the Bearcats were issued an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
That made it third-and-36 from the 40, and Bradley ended matters with his second interception on the season.
Ridder, Cincinnati’s redshirt freshman, is a serious dual threat quarterback, but the Owls defense contained him both passing and running. He completed just 14 of 33 passes for 111 yards, no touchdowns and one interception and rushed for 9 yards on 16 carries.
“We had to rush efficiency and couldn’t over pursue and make sure he stayed in the pocket,” said Temple defensive tackle Michael Dogbe, who had four tackles, including 1 1/2 tackles for loss and a forced fumble.
Temple running back Ryquell Armstead missed his second straight game with an ankle injury, and defensive lineman Freddie Booth-Lloyd, who was wearing a boot on his left foot, also sat out.
Jager Gardner led the Owls in rushing with 56 yards on 15 carries.
Temple benefited from Cincinnati missing three of four field goal attempts.
The Owls opened the scoring on Mobley’s 28-yard field goal with 10 minutes, 27 seconds left in the first quarter. The field goal was set up when Dogbe caused a fumble that was recovered by Jimmy Hogan on the Bearcats’ 4-yard line
On the ensuing kickoff, Temple’s Rob Ritrovato forced a fumble that was recovered by Sam Franklin on the Cincinnati 16-yard line. It was the second forced fumble on a kickoff this year by Ritrovato. Three plays later, Russo hit Randle Jones in the left corner of the end zone for a 16-yard TD pass and a 10-0 lead.
Cincinnati then scored 17 unanswered points and appeared poised to leave Philadelphia with its unbeaten record intact, but the Owls, in general, and Russo in particular, fought through some long tough stretches to enter the bye on a three-game winning streak.