Leopards fall to FBS foe Temple in hard fought battle

Senior+linebacker+Jyaire+Stevens+rings+the+Lafayette+bell+after+forcing+a+fumble+in+the+second+quarter+of+the+Leopards+game+at+Lincoln+Financial+Field.+

Photo by Char

Senior linebacker Jyaire Stevens rings the Lafayette bell after forcing a fumble in the second quarter of the Leopards’ game at Lincoln Financial Field.

Last Saturday, the football team (1-1 overall) embarked on the first road test of John Troxell’s young Lafayette head coaching career, losing to Temple University 30-14 at Lincoln Financial Field. Spirits were high after beating Sacred Heart University, but Temple – who places in the competitive American Athletic Conference – proved to be a tougher contest.

“Winning against Sacred Heart definitely gave us confidence, but generally we try to look at every week as a new challenge, so beyond that I wouldn’t say the win had a major impact on our mindset,” junior defensive Lineman Adam Port said.

While the Leopards did manage to keep it close, timely miscues and multiple special teams disasters handicapped the team. However, they did show marked improvement on offense behind freshman quarterback Ryan Schuster. He threw for eight yards and two picks with zero touchdowns in last week’s game against Sacred Heart.

The game began less than ideally for the Maroon and White, as for the second time this season, a holding penalty wiped a first down off the board and forced the team to punt. Temple then immediately went down and scored to make it 7-0, marking the first score given up by the Lafayette defense this season.

“The fast score definitely hurt in the moment but once we got to the sideline and talked it over, we calmed down pretty quickly,” Port said. “We didn’t change a whole lot going into the subsequent series, we just tried to play physical and run to the ball. I felt like that translated to the rest of the game, as we generated a few turnovers and put ourselves in position to keep the game close and go for a win through the first three quarters.”

After a second quick three and out by the offense, the Leopards needed their defense to step up. That is exactly what they did when Port – making his first career start – punched the ball out of the former five-star QB sophomore D’Wan Mathis’ hands for a fumble.

“Knocking the ball out was really exciting,” Port said. “I didn’t realize it was out at first, but once I saw the refs making the call and [Olivas] on the ball it was a great feeling, especially coming off a drive where we had gotten scored on. It’s always an awesome moment individually or as a unit when you can end a drive and give your teammates better field position to score.”

The Leopards took over on Temple’s 28-yard line, and after a quick 14-yard pass to senior wide receiver Joe Gillette, they scored on a 13-yard pass from Schuster to senior wide receiver Julius Young. That touchdown to tie the game up was the first career passing touchdown for Schuster. Forcing a fourth down failed conversion from the Owls, the score was even after the first quarter.

The second started just as the last had ended with the Lafayette defense stopping Temple on three straight drives, but the offense continued to struggle. With five minutes left in the second, Temple benched their QB and put in freshman Earl Warner, the son of NFL Hall of Fame QB Kurt Warner. Warner proceeded to lead the Owls down the field quickly to make it 14-7.

Lafayette attempted to respond. However, Temple blocked the ensuing punt to give them great field position to score quickly before the end of the half. That is exactly what they did, and the two teams jogged into the locker for intermission with the score 21-7.

“I can only speak for the defensive line regarding the adjustments, but we didn’t make any major changes during the game,” Port said. “I’d say it was a good effort, but there were definitely a few plays we left out there that we want to make next week in order to win.”

The beginning of the second half started well for the Leopards as the defense forced its third fumble of the game when Senior Marco Olivas punched the ball out, setting up the offense on the Temple 15-yard line.

With only 15 yards to go for a score, the Maroon and White could not muster much offense, running eight plays only to get 10 yards. This resulted in them having a fourth and goal on the five, when Schuster rolled all the way to his right then threw across his body to a wide-open junior tight end Mason Gilbert in the endzone for a touchdown.

“The offense struggling or not wasn’t important because we know if we did our jobs, it would put our offense in a better position to do theirs, thinking any differently is a recipe for disaster,” Port said.

The rest of the third quarter was uneventful, as both defenses held and the game went to its final quarter with the score 21-14, Owls.

In their first possession of the fourth quarter, the Leopards had their punt blocked for the second time in the game, setting Temple up with great field position. The Owls quickly added to their tally to give them a two-score lead, 28-14.

The Leopards could not respond offensively, and a third blocked punt which resulted in a safety at the end of the game put the idea of a comeback out of reach. The Leopards jogged off the field in Philadelphia after holding a former FBS Conference champion to a two-touchdown margin.

“We’ve had this coaching transition and we’re also playing a lot of young guys, so it’s just a matter of everyone knowing what to do and everyone doing their jobs,” Gillette said.

The Leopards will now turn their attention to William & Mary, who they will host this Saturday during family weekend. Kickoff will be at Fisher Stadium 3:30 and will be streaming on ESPN+.