The last thing that Temple football upperclassmen probably expected on senior day was a competitive game -- or, even as it turned out, half a game.
The seniors were playing their final game at Lincoln Financial Field against a UConn team that was last in the American Athletic Conference in both scoring offense and scoring defense, a deadly twosome.
Temple, a 28.5-point favorite to begin the week, fell into a 14-0 hole, and still trailed 17-14 at intermission before getting down to business in the second. half.
Pitching a 35-0 second-half shutout, the Owls ended their regular season and UConn’s AAC career with Saturday’s 49-17 win over the Huskies.
Temple (8-4, 5-3 AAC) was eliminated from contention in the AAC East Division with last week’s 15-13 heartbreaking loss at Cincinnati.
The Owls now await a bowl bid, which will be announced on Dec. 8. The Military Bowl and Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl are among the leading contenders, according to a source, who warns that things are still wide open.
The emotion of senior day certainly was a factor in Temple’s slow start.
“It was an awful start,” Temple coach Rod Carey said. “Emotions run high on senior day and it was no different for us. We lost our minds a little bit.”
They gained them after halftime.
The game was more emotional than even the seniors had envisioned.
“It is an emotional day and your family is out there so when you see it come down, it kind of gets to you a little," said senior linebacker Shaun Bradley, who had five tackles, including one for a loss.
While Temple finally settled down, UConn reverted to form.
For UConn (2-10, 0-8) it was the swan song for the AAC. The Huskies are moving to the Big East next season and since the conference doesn’t offer football. UConn will play as an independent. Good luck with that since a taste of the road schedule has the Huskies visiting Virginia, Ole Miss, and North Carolina.
Temple received a big day from 6-foot-5, 220-pound redshirt junior receiver Branden Mack, who had five receptions for 171 yards and two touchdowns.
“It was big deal, we wanted to send the seniors out the right way, send them out with a W,” Mack said.
Mack’s 41-yard reception from Anthony Russo in the first series of the third quarter gave Temple the lead for good, 21-17.
The person who jump-started the offense was redshirt sophomore quarterback Todd Centeio. Beginning with a 27-17 win at East Carolina on Oct. 3, Centeio has been receiving usually one series per half, a sort of tempo changer.
Against UConn, Centeio made his first appearance with Temple down, 17-7, late in the first half. He led a five-play 75-yard drive, capped by a 10-yard touchdown pass to Jadan Blue with 3 minutes and 23 seconds left in the half. Blue set a school single-season record for receiving yards. With seven receptions for 52 yards and a score on Saturday, Blue now has 975 receiving yards.
For the game, Centeio completed 4 of 6 passes for 65 yards and the one touchdown. He also rushed for 75 yards on six carries. Russo completed 14 of 23 passes for 247 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
Also in that scoring series that Centeio directed was a 53-yard catch-and-run by tight end Kenny Yeboah. Centeio, in his limited time, has clicked well with Temple’s redshirt junior right end.
On the next offensive series, Centeio came out again and began it with a 45-yard run before the Owls were eventually forced to punt.
Still, he provided the spark that the sagging offense needed and when Mack scored on the opening second-half series, the Owls were finally off to the races.
“I always try to give us a spark,” Centeio said.