Roles reversed when Temple hosts UCF on Saturday

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Temple wide receiver Keith Kirkwood runs with the football against Navy on Thursday, November 2, 2017 in Philadelphia. YONG KIM / Staff Photographer

The victory, a year ago, turned around the Temple football program and played a major role in the Owls’ winning the American Athletic Conference title. Trailing by as many as 18 points in the second quarter, Temple went on to forge a last-second comeback in a 26-25 win at Central Florida.

The Owls scored the winner when Phillip Walker completed an 8-yard pass to Keith Kirkwood with one second left. That completed a four-play, 70-yard drive with no timeouts.

Now, the roles will be reversed when Temple hosts Central Florida at noon Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field. Temple (5-5, 3-3 AAC) is the underdog after winning the previous two AAC East Division titles

Central Florida (9-0, 6-0), which was 0-12 in 2015 and 6-7 last year, has eyes on a New Year’s Day bowl bid. The Knights are ranked No. 14 in this week’s Associated Press poll and will have a showdown Nov. 24 when they host rival South Florida (8-1, 5-1).

Here is a sobering thought for Temple: According to the Owls’ sports information department, they are 1-51 all-time against teams ranked in the top 14.

Even though Temple has long been out of the division race, the Owls need to win one of their final two games to become bowl-eligible. They will close their season Nov. 25 at Tulsa (2-8, 1-5).

So there is so much riding on this game.

Asked if Temple could be a trap game before the South Florida showdown, second-year UCF coach Scott Frost shot down the theory.

“We have to look at what is in front of us,” Frost said Monday in an AAC media teleconference. “Our kids remember what happened to them against Temple last year and are looking forward to the game, so there is plenty of reason to focus on this and not look past.”

Kirkwood, the hero a year ago against UCF, wants nothing to do with last year’s game, at least this week.

“Last year is in the past. We are focusing on this game,” Kirkwood said Tuesday after practice. “We are ready for an exciting game. UCF is undefeated and I know they are going to bring intensity and energy and we have to match that.”

A few weeks ago it would have been quite a reach to suggest that Temple could even be competitive with a UCF team that leads the nation in scoring, averaging 48.6 points. Temple, however, is coming off its best two-game stretch of the season, beating visiting Navy, 34-26, and winning Friday at Cincinnati, 35-24.

The Owls have been rejuvenated behind redshirt junior Frank Nutile, who will make his fourth consecutive start and fourth career start at quarterback this week.

Plus, it will be senior day for Temple. This senior class can set a school record for most wins. The current seniors are tied with the 2011 group that had 31 victories.

So there is much at stake even though Temple’s players and coaches are doing their best to suggest it is like any other week.

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