For Temple junior safety Delvon Randall, the most vivid memory of playing Navy last season is flying confetti. The Owls earned a 34-10 win over the host Midshipmen in last season’s American Athletic Conference championship game.
“All the confetti on the field,” Randall said after Tuesday’s practice in response to what he remembered most about last year’s title game. “It was my first championship, I never won (a title) in high school, and it was a blessing to win a championship in my sophomore year in college.”
When Temple hosts Navy at 8 p.m. Thursday at Lincoln Financial Field, the stakes will be drastically different. So many of the principal characters from a year ago are gone, and so is the plot.
Instead of vying for a championship, neither team is yet bowl-eligible. Temple (3-5, 1-3 AAC) has to go 3-1 in its final four games to become eligible. Navy (5-2, 3-2) has a more manageable path, with the next win making the Midshipmen eligible for the sixth consecutive year and 14th time in the last 15 seasons.
Temple has been to two consecutive bowls and has never appeared in three straight in program history.
Both teams will be looking to end two-game losing streaks.
“That championship game was so long ago,” Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said during Monday’s AAC media call. “The media will talk about it, but it is the least of my concerns.”
Temple left tackle Leon Johnson, who started at right tackle in the title game, agreed.
“You can’t be attached to the outcome from last year,” said Johnson, who has been hampered by an ankle injury but says he is ready to go. “If we do, we are making a sad mistake and will come in at a big disadvantage.”
During last year’s game, Navy starting quarterback Will Worth suffered a season-ending foot injury. That allowed current junior Zach Abey to see action and indirectly helped begin the path of one of the more dangerous running quarterbacks in the country.
Abey rushed for 70 yards, including a 1-yard touchdown, on 14 carries. He also completed 7 of 13 passes for 104 yards and two interceptions.
He suffered a head injury in Navy’s most recent game, a 31-21 loss to visiting Central Florida on Oct. 21, but Niumatalolo says he has been practicing and will be ready to go against the Owls.
“He is one of the leading rushers in the country, and he can also spin the ball,” Temple coach Geoff Collins said, referring to Abey’s throwing ability.
This season, the 6-foot-2, 212-pound Abey is sixth in the country in rushing with 1,142 yards (5.5 average) and has scored 13 touchdowns. Dating to last year, he has rushed for 100 or more yards in a school-record eight consecutive games. Abey has completed 19 of 51 passes for 606 yards, six touchdowns, and five interceptions.
While both sides insist last year’s game has no bearing on this season’s, it was a springboard to Abey’s career.
Three things to watch
Will Navy continue its recent penchant for turnovers? The Midshipmen have lost two in a row, and in those games, they have eight turnovers: five in a 30-27 loss to Memphis and three in a 31-21 defeat against Central Florida.
Temple running back Ryquell Armstead, hampered by a toe injury all season, said he is as healthy as he has been this year, and it showed in the last game when he rushed for 151 yards and two touchdowns in the overtime loss at Army. This was by far his best game.
While Navy is known for its running game in the triple-option offense, the Owls can’t go to sleep on the passing game, especially receiver Tyler Carmona. A 6-foot-4, 224-pound senior, Carmona has just eight receptions but is averaging 33.8 yards per catch and has three touchdowns.
By the numbers
376.1: Average yards per game rushing by Navy, which is No. 1 in the country.
20.9: Average points per game by Temple which is last in the AAC and 112th nationally.
49.5: The third-down conversion percentage of Navy, which is No. 1 in the AAC and No. 6 in the nation. By comparison, Temple’s conversion percentage is 40.5, eighth in the AAC and 59th nationally.