Temple tops East Carolina to reach 7-0 for the first time ever

Temple Owls tight end Kip Patton (80) runs with the ball during the first quarter against the East Carolina Pirates at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

GREENVILLE, N.C. - Thursday night at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, home of Pirate nation, Temple's football team played a game as a ranked team for the first time since 1979, when coach Matt Rhule was 4 years old. Not that anyone's been counting.

For the fourth time in program history and first in just over four decades, the Owls had won their first six. With that Halloween night home date against No. 11 Notre Dame on ABC directly on the horizon, they were trying to get to 7-0 for the first time ever. And they've been playing for 121 years. They also had an opportunity to all but wrap up the American Athletic's East Division, while taking another step toward hosting the conference's inaugural championship game in early December.

Other than that, there wasn't a whole bunch on the line.

Almost all anyone on the outside had been talking about since they upset Cincinnati on the road in Week 2 was Notre Dame. But after a month of handling teams they were supposed to beat, they had to deal with slightly favored East Carolina before they could finally start talking about the Irish, too. At least for public consumption.

And the Owls, in case you forgot, had knocked off a ranked ECU team 11 months ago in South Philly when they were 4-3.

Did we mention that the crowd was in full blackout mode, even though it numbered a shade under 40,000, the first time that's happened in 14 home games? Or that ECU hadn't lost a conference game here in October since 2006?

So much for covering most of your pertinent story lines.

Here's the only thing that matters now: No. 22 Temple 24, ECU 14. Time to bring on Notre Dame (6-1) in prime time. Does it get any bigger for North Broad? Maybe it's even enough to get ESPN's "College GameDay" crew to show up. And who figured the Owls would own the better record when the contract was signed?

The dreams remain very much in play.

"I told the kids it's the best win I've ever been part of as a coach," Rhule said. "In many ways, they outplayed us. We just found a way. You have to, in a game like this."

It was hardly pretty. No rule says it needs to be. Ask the NFC East.

The Owls have been a fourth-quarter team. They were again. They had to be. It's their third win as an underdog.

P.J. Walker hit Robbie Anderson over the middle on a third-and-5 for the go-ahead 23-yard touchdown with 3:31 showing. It capped a 71-yard drive in which the key play was a 51-yard pass, also down the seam and also to Anderson (eight receptions, 126 yards).

The Owls then forced a punt that was blocked by Sharif Finch, who missed last week with a leg injury. And on their second play, Jahad Thomas ran it the end zone from 14 yards away at 2:18.

"We looked around at each other and we weren't worried about it," Walker said. "It's a long game. If we kept playing, we were going to win."

Added Anderson: "We didn't get rattled. We didn't give up. We beat a great team, in this atmosphere. And we were picked to lose."

The Owls didn't get their first second-half first down until the final play of the third period. That doesn't matter anymore, either.

Austin Jones had missed a 37-yard field goal to the right with 7:24 to go, after a fumble recovery by Jacob Martin at the Owls' 45.

ECU (4-4, 2-1) had almost 400 yards, which was way more than Temple had allowed in its last two games total.

Thomas, the AAC's leading rusher, didn't start because of unspecified "academic" reasons. Since he was in by the third snap, the infraction probably wasn't overly flagrant. He finished with 66 yards on 20 carries, which included an early 24-yarder.

ECU was up, 14-10, at the half. The Pirates had won 26 straight when leading after 30 minutes.

The Pirates didn't get inside the Temple 34 in the second half.

"We know what type of team we can be," linebacker Tyler Matakevich said. "The whole week, we knew it was going to come down to the fourth quarter. And we knew what was going to happen. That's the mentality we have.

"The best part about this team is we're just having fun out there. The environment was nuts. But we just played football. We were saying, 'Relax, it's going to be fine.' "

Temple scored on its opening drive after coming up with a three-and-out. Starting near midfield, the Owls reached the ECU 11 before getting a 28-yard FG some 5 1/2 minutes in.

Late in the first quarter, Davis Plowman was wide left on a 40-yarder at the other end, which ended a streak of 19 straight Pirates trips into the red zone that had resulted in points.

The next time they got the ball, the Pirates went 80 yards in 14 plays, converting a fourth-and-3 from the Temple 27. Three plays later, Chris Hairston ran it in from a yard out, the first TD allowed by Temple's defense in eight quarters.

The Owls then answered with a 75-yard march of their own. A pass-interference call in the end zone put them on the 2, and from there Thomas took in around right end with 2:59 left before intermission.

But the Pirates came right back, going 75 yards themselves. This time, they had a fourth-and-10 at the Owls' 37, but Blake Kemp - the passing half of their two-quarterback rotation - found tight end Bryce Williams for 21. After a spike and a completion to the 7, Kemp hooked up with Quay Johnson on a crossing route for a TD, the first of his career.

At that point, the teams had already combined for 134 yards in flags. And the Owls were throwing deep a lot against a secondary that had some injury issues. But they narrowly missed on what appeared to be several decent big-play chances.

Now, nobody will remember. They'll just be thinking ahead to ND.

"I'm so proud of them for not looking ahead, or looking behind," Rhule said. "I don't want to diminish this by talking about what's ahead. This is an accomplishment. Now we're excited about what's next."

On Twitter: @mikekerndn