By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report
After a pair of fantastic finishes in the first two Mayor’s Cups, this year’s version of the rivalry between the two Big 5 teams was decidedly one-sided in favor of the Div. I Football Bowl Subdivision team from North Philadelphia.
Even though the Owls and the Wildcats, who play in Div. I Football Championship Subdivision, are in different levels of college footbball, the games between the two Philly-area teams have been competitive. The Wildcats beat the Owls on the last play in 2009 and the Owls barely escaped with a victory in 2010.
This year’s contest was one where the Owls of the Mid-American Conference looked like the team that plays in the upper echelon of Div. I college football.
Featuring the hard running of junior tailback Bernard Pierce and the passing of junior quarterback Mike Gerardi, the Temple Owls scored touchdowns on four of their first five possessions and cruised their way to a 42-7 blowout of Villanova to capture the Mayor’s Cup for the second straight year in front of 32, 638 fans at Lincoln Financial Field.
“We wanted to be a tough physical football team, which opens out the run game and that allows you to take some shots down field, so that early momentum was good for us,” said first-year Temple head coach Steve Addazio.
If you’re a Temple fan, get ready to see heavy doses of Pierce throughout the 2011 season. He gained 147 yards on 20 carries and scored three touchdowns. Addazio, who coached at Florida with Urban Meyer, definitely liked what he saw from his tailback.
“I think he as talented as any of the backs I’ve seen in the conferences I’ve been in,” said Addazio. “He’s got all the talent. Why? He’s big, he’s got size. He’s got speed, he’s make you miss. He has those qualities. Bernard’s working real hard to learn how to play through these physical games and finish and work through injuries. I was real proud of him today he was driving, he was spinning for extra yards. He was tight with the ball for the most part. He is absolutely one of the top backs in the country.”
The Owls can move the football through the air as Gerardi completed 14- of- 20 passes for 235 yards and two touchdowns. The junior signal caller found he got the starting job this past Tuesday. For the game, the Owls rolled up 475 yards of total offense.
“I was just taking what the defense gave me and just trying to manage the game,” Gerardi said. “I came out here, I wasn’t trying to look for the big play every time. I was checking the ball underneath and let my receivers, running backs make a play for me.”
On defense, the Owls forced five turnovers-three interceptions and one fumble. They held the Villanova offense, starting a redshirt freshman quarterback playing his first game in Dustin Davis, to just 275 yards of total offense. They sacked Davis three times.
Considering that Villanova lost bulk of a team that won the FCS title in 2009 and went to the semifinals in 2010, head coach Andy Talley knew that it was going to be an uphill battle against Temple. The Wildcats started 17 first-year players.
“That was probably part of the reason, weren’t able to challenge them in any way,” Talley said. “We put them in some pressure situations and we turned the ball four times. Against a good team in any league, you’re going to have a rough go. That speaks to the 42 points they put on the board along with the fact that we are a rebuilding team.”
The Wildcats, who went to the FCS semifinals in 2010, didn’t have trouble moving the ball in the first half, they moved it into Temple territory twice. They just could not score and that would ultimately kill any chances they had to be in the game. On its first possession, the Wildcats took 10 plays to move to the Temple 30. But Thomas was picked off in the end zone by Temple defensive back Justin Gildea.
“It gave us a lot of juice.” said sophomore outside linebacker Blaze Caponegro. “We were back on our heels a little bit and we hung together, we just kept in there … and it came out for the best for us.”
Temple took advantage of the Villanova turnover by driving 75 yards in seven plays to Gerardi’s 35 yard touchdown pass to Deon Miller to give the Owls a 7-0 lead.
Early in the second quarter, the Wildcats offense drove the ball to the 24. But two bad plays by the Villanova offense turned that series around. First, Thomas had trouble handling the football and recovered his own fumble at the Temple 36. On the next play, the ball was jarred loose from Thomas by Anthony Robey and recovered by Tahir Whitehead at the Owls 38-yard line.
That would be the last chance the Wildcats had to keep the game competitive because it was all Temple all the time from there.
“I knew the game could get away from us early and by not testing them at all or getting something on the board, we let them off the hook,” Talley said. “Now you run into the other problems with turning the ball over and young guys making mistakes.”
The Owls took advantage of the Wildcats mistake and moved 62 yards in five plays that was capped by a 19-yard run by Pierce, who would score another touchdown near the end of the half to give Temple an insurmountable 21-0 lead.
In the second half, it was all Temple as Gerardi upped the Temple margin 28-0 with a 47-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Rod Streater Pierce scored his final touchdown of the game on a 20-yard run. After that point, the Owls put in their substitutes. Back-up quarterback Chris Coyer scored on a 68-yard touchdown to close out the scoring for Temple.
The Wildcats didn’t score until there was 7:57 left in the game on a four-yard run by Davis, who gained 87 yards rushing while passing for 109 yards on 11-of-25 passing with three interceptions.