CINCINNATI – The spark that Temple has received from starting quarterback Frank Nutile continued, leaving the Owls one win away from being bowl- eligible with two games remaining.
Making his third straight start, Nutile threw for 224 yards and a touchdown and rushed for 28 and another score and Isaiah Wright scored the Owls’ first touchdown on a kickoff return in more than two years as Temple defeated Cincinnati, 35-24, on Friday night at Nippert Stadium.
Temple (5-5, 3-3 American Athletic Conference) must beat either Central Florida (8-0) next week, or Tulsa (2-8) in the season finale to become bowl-eligible for the fourth straight year.
Cincinnati (3-7, 1-5) saw its hopes end.
“I thought we played hard, played together, I thought we ran the ball well,” Temple coach Geoff Collins said. “I thought Frankie Juice [Nutile] gave us a spark, some energy and natural leadership ability.”
Temple’s defense played without leading tackler Chapelle Russell, who suffered a season-ending ACL injury last week, according to a source. Walk-on Todd Jones played well after Russell’s replacement, Isaiah Graham-Mobley, left the game following a second-quarter injury. Jones finished with seven tackles.
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“It was preparation, watching film all week and knowing what they were going to do,” Jones said.
Another key was penalties. Cincinnati was penalized 11 times for 107 yards compared with Temple’s four for 50 yards.
After trailing 13-0 at halftime, Cincinnati came out on fire in the third quarter, but Temple was matching the Bearcats.
Cincinnati scored on its first two possessions in the second half. The first came on a 29-yard touchdown pass from Hayden Moore to Thomas Geddis on a fourth-and-6 play. Geddis beat Mike Jones, catching Moore’s pass just over the Temple senior in the end zone.
On the next series, Temple answered when Nutile hit Keith Kirkwood in stride for a 34-yard scoring pass. Kirkwood beat Marquese Taylor on a double move, as the Cincinnati cornerback slipped on the play.
Cincinnati made it 20-14 when Mike Boone scored on the next series on a bruising 21-yard run in which he broke several tackles.
Temple’s Wright returned the ensuing kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown. The Owls’ last kickoff return for a score also came at Nippert Stadium, when Jahad Thomas scored on a 100-yard play in a 34-26 win at Cincinnati on Sept. 12, 2015.
“We knew they packed their kickoff coverage in, so we knew they were going to be aggressive, and if we stayed to the game plan and hit the right hole, that we would bust one,” Wright said.
After Wright’s score, the Owls used some razzle-dazzle to score on the two-point conversion, with a receiver completing a pass to a quarterback. Temple running back Rob “Nitro” Ritrovato took the direct snap and lateraled to Wright. Running to his left, the left-handed Wright hit open Nutile to push the lead to 28-14 with 7:41 left in the quarter.
Nutile said it was his first-ever catch and that he expects to get razzed by his friends back home.
“It was pretty cool,” he said. “I told Isaiah, ‘Throw it easy to me.’ ”
Temple held on the next series and after Cincinnati punter James Smith dropped the snap, the Owls’ Travon Williams tackled him at the Bearcats’ 27. The Owls couldn’t capitalize, missing a 44-yard field-goal attempt.
After Cincinnati cut the lead to 28-17 when Ryan Jones kicked a 26-yard field goal on the first play of the fourth quarter, Temple scored on the next series, with Nutile finishing matters on a 3-yard bootleg, increasing the lead to 35-17 with 11:03 left.
Cincinnati’s Devin Gray had a first-quarter punt return for a touchdown nullified by a block-in-the-back penalty. Instead of scoring, the Bearcats had first-and-10 from their own 30 and would end up punting.
Temple took a 13-0 first-half lead on two Aaron Boumerhi field goals and a 1-yard run by David Hood, who received a great lead block from fullback Nick Sharga. Hood was called upon for extra duty because starting halfback Ryquell Armstead saw only limited action in the first quarter. Armstead has battled injuries throughout most of the season. Hood finished with 108 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries.