GREENVILLE, N.C. – After struggling in its first road game and starting off its second in similar fashion, Temple finally settled down.
Playing against a vastly improved East Carolina team, Temple faced a 7-0 deficit that could have been worse had the Pirates not missed a 39-yard field goal by the normally reliable Jake Verity.
Then a planned insertion into the lineup of backup quarterback Todd Centeio sparked the Owls and they took off from there in a 27-17 win Thursday night at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
The Owls improved to 4-1, 1-0 in the American Athletic Conference and now await a showdown Oct. 12 against AAC title contender Memphis (4-0).
ECU (3-3, 0-2) is a much better team than last year’s 3-9 version that lost to Temple, 49-6.
Temple’s first road game resulted in a 38-22 loss at Buffalo on Sept. 21. The Owls said this week that they learned a lot from that defeat and the players vowed to have greater focus. It showed in the way they regrouped after the slow start.
A source had said that during the week it was determined that Centeio, a quarterback who can run as well as throw, would play at least one series in the first half and possibly at least one in the second.
Starting quarterback Anthony Russo said that was indeed the plan.
“We knew all week he would have a series in the first and second half,” Russo said. “He just brings a different dynamic with his legs.”
Centeio had a natural reaction when told he would be playing against ECU
I was happy," Centeio said “I just want to help the team.”
After Verity missed his field goal with 2 minutes, 42 seconds left in the first quarter, Centeio entered and the momentum shifted.
Centeio led the Owls on an 11-play, 65-yard drive in which he completed both of his passes for 33 yards and rushed for 21 more. The drive ended with Will Mobley’s 29-yard field goal, cutting ECU’s lead to 7-3 with 12:39 left in the first half.
“You just be ready and go out and have fun and that is what I do,” Centeio said.
Russo returned and led the Owls to consecutive touchdowns, providing Temple with a 17-10 halftime lead.
The two touchdowns came on a 9-yard run by Jager Gardner and a 1-yard run by Re’Mahn Davis.
ECU took it to the Owls on the game’s first drive, going 90 yards in 12 plays that culminated with C.J. Johnson’s 14-yard touchdown reception.
Temple came out strong on the opening drive of the third quarter until getting into the red zone. First the Owls earned a reprieve when an end zone interception thrown by Russo was correctly overturned. On the next play, Russo was strip-sacked by Kendall Futrell, who also recovered the fumble.
Centeio returned for the second Temple series of the second half. He led the Owls to the ECU 38, but Temple ended up punting.
Russo returned the next series and capped an eight-play, 49-yard drive with a 6-yard shovel pass to Isaiah Wright for the touchdown. That increased the Owls’ lead to 24-10 with 7 seconds left in the third quarter.
Mobley’s 39-yard field goal boosted the Owls’ lead to 27-10 with 10:37 left.
With 3:52 left, some of the stadium lights went out, and the game, which was televised by ESPN, had to be delayed.
ECU’s Johnson had his second touchdown reception of the game with just 29 seconds left. The Pirates then recovered the onside kick but couldn’t do any more damage.
Temple defensive ends Quincy Roche and Dana Levine and defensive tackle Ifeanyi Maijeh each had two tackles for losses, including a sack each, to lead the defensive effort.
Roche is 6-4 and 235-pounds while Levine is 6-4 and 230 and both are known for their speed around the edge.
“It was really good, we knew their tackles couldn’t stick with our speed,” Levine said. “...We knew we would eventually get to the quarterback.”
Russo completed 23 of 34 passes for 208 yards and one score. Centeio was 4 of 5 for 45 yards. He also rushed for 23 yards on nine carries.