When Temple Beat Penn State
It's been 70 years since the Owls beat the Nittany Lions. Here's how they did it.
When Temple Beat Penn State
Frank Fitzpatrick, Inquirer Sports Columnist
The shape of the future would have surprised them all as, inside the East Mount Airy house that served as Owl Stadium's home locker room, Temple's football team changed out of its wet and muddy football uniforms that long-ago Saturday.
It was Oct. 18, 1941, and the Owls had just beaten Penn State, 14-0.
Jim Woodside, Frank Moister, Ed Stec and their teammates couldn't have known - and wouldn't have believed anyway - that 70 years later, as the same two schools prepare to meet tomorrow in State College, Temple would still be looking for its next win over Penn State.
There was a 7-7 tie in 1950 and agonizingly close losses in 1975, 1976 and 1985. But through nearly three dozen games, over 6 1/2 decades, the Owls would not top the team an Inquirer writer called the "Up-Staters" that day in 1941.
"That is a little hard to believe, isn't it?" said Woodside in 2006. "We were both playing big-time football back then."
More tragically, the Owls' players also had no way of knowing that in less than two months, Japan, where that very day Gen. Tojo became prime minister, would attack Pearl Harbor and scuttle their lives.
Woodside soon would be a Marine, hopping from island to island in the Allies' Pacific assault. Moister, who died at 84 in 2005, would fly 50 combat missions as a decorated Marine pilot. And Stec, a reserve tackle from Phoenixville on the Ray Morrison-coached Owls, would be killed in the D-Day landing at Normandy.
But none of that was on the players' horizons as the two Eastern schools met that rainy afternoon before a crowd of 25,000 in the big oval at Mount Pleasant and Cheltenham Avenues. The 32,000-seat facility, constructed in 1927, would be known as Temple Stadium for most of its remaining 56 years.
Penn State and Temple's programs dated to the 19th century. But, primarily because Temple was reluctant to make that long, difficult trek to remote State College, the teams would not meet until 1931.
The Owls won two of the first three games, all of which, like the 1941 matchup, were played in Philadelphia. Penn State's only victory in the young series had come the season before, an 18-0 shutout.
"We liked to play them because, back then, most of the players on both teams came from Pennsylvania," said Woodside, a Philadelphian. "We knew each other."
Maybe a little too well.
The game was marred by several scuffles. The officials called 10 penalties, seven on the visiting Nittany Lions. And four players, two on each side, were carried off the field on stretchers.
"There were times when it looked as if both elevens had their boxing and wrestling squads in action," wrote The Inquirer's Stan Baumgartner, who described the game as "bruising and bitterly fought."
In the slippery conditions, defense dominated. Temple finished with net yardage of 134 yards, Penn State 86. The Owls also picked off four passes and limited the Nittany Lions star, running back Johnny "Pepper" Petrella, to 21 yards on 13 carries.
George Sutch scored the game's first touchdown in the first period and Andy Tomasic put the Owls up, 14-0, in the third with another scoring run.
"It was just one of those games where there weren't a lot of big, memorable plays," said Woodside, who played its entirety, at center and linebacker.
After its loss at Temple, Penn State was 1-2. The Lions would win their last six games to finish at 7-2. In 1942, Bob Higgins' team would go 6-1-1 and end up with a No. 19 ranking in the Associated Press Top 20.
Temple improved to 3-0 with the victory and also concluded its season at 7-2. The Owls hung around the edges of big-time football until the 1950s.
Both coaches eventually went into the College Football Hall of Fame. But the two schools ended their annual series after the 1951 game and wouldn't resume it until 1975.
In that '75 season-opening matchup, before 57,112 at Franklin Field, Wayne Hardin's Owls nearly pulled off a spectacular upset, losing in heartbreaking fashion, 26-25, to a Penn State team that would wind up No. 10 in the country.
The Owls came within a point again the next season, losing, 31-30, at Veterans Stadium in 1976. Since then, there's been little competitiveness.
"I'm not sure what happened," Woodside said. "I know that in our day, Temple got a lot of the blue-chippers. I think it probably got to be tough recruiting kids to Temple's campus."
WHen the series resumed in 2006, then Owls coach Al Golden, himself a Penn State product, said Temple would try to use the renewed series as a stepping-stone back to respectability.
"I think it's really good for both programs," Golden said then. "Penn State can't keep playing the upper-echelon teams out of conference when they're playing teams like Michigan, Ohio State and Wisconsin in the conference. So I thought from that standpoint it was a fit.
"Second, Penn State wants to always have a presence in Philadelphia. So if they come back here every third year, I think it's great for the Penn State fans that are in Philly and South Jersey."