For Temple, there was no moral victory, just a loss

Penn State's Jordan Hill brings down Temple quarterback Mike Gerardi as Gerardi attempts to pass in the fourth quarter. Gerardi's two late interceptions hurt the Owls' chances to win.
Penn State's Jordan Hill brings down Temple quarterback Mike Gerardi as Gerardi attempts to pass in the fourth quarter. Gerardi's two late interceptions hurt the Owls' chances to win. (CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer)
Posted: September 18, 2011

For over three hours, Penn State loyalists threw their arms up and held their heads in their hands, the bile level rising, as the Nittany Lions sputtered, never experiencing a lead. The big screen at Lincoln Financial Field showed a marriage proposal by a young Penn State fan. The bride-to-be in her Penn State gear accepted, and you felt a tinge of pity for the couple. What a day to get started.

The idea that Temple wasn't even pulling off some monumental upset, they were just winning a football game - winning ugly, which made it more impressive - caused the Owls sideline to deflate so completely after two late Owls interceptions let Penn State off the hook. The Nittany Lions survived, 14-10.

As Penn State ran out the only three meaningless plays of the day, Steve Addazio took his headset off and stood with his hands on his hips. Nobody was talking to anybody on that sideline. Afterward, Temple's coach spoke from his gut: "There's no moral victories. There's nothing. . . . We lost. We could play anybody for that."

But this hadn't been anybody. You wouldn't know it if you watched this one, but Penn State sets the standard for college football around here. The Owls had their best chance in decades to beat the bully of the block, to defeat the Nittany Lions for the first time in 70 years.

"We're all bitterly disappointed," Addazio said, adding: "It's supposed to hurt."

Addazio pinned the blame where it had to go, on turnovers, specifically two interceptions that gave Penn State fourth-quarter chances starting in Owls territory, from the 26- and 44-yard lines.

"They were bad throws," said Temple quarterback Mike Gerardi, blaming nobody else. "I saw the guy was open. I didn't lead him enough."

That was on the first pick, by Chaz Powell. The Owls dodged that bullet when a 36-yard field-goal attempt by Evan Lewis slammed into the right upright. Three plays later, Gerardi was intercepted again, and offered no alibi. He saw a receiver open by a step and missed him "once again," he said.

Even after Penn State pushed ahead on a Michael Zordich touchdown run with 2 minutes, 42 seconds left, Temple had a shot, getting into Nittany Lions territory, and going farther after a Penn State personal foul. But there was no late throw into the end zone for Gerardi because Sean Stanley got him on a fourth-down blind-side hit, causing a fumble that settled things.

For Penn State, only its defense seems Big Ten-ready, and the quarterback polls remain open. Rob Bolden came into the day with the edge but didn't do much early. Mike McGloin got his chance and looked a little sharper, leading Penn State into the end zone on his first drive. By the end, Bolden was back. Who knows what next Saturday will bring against Eastern Michigan?

"One of the toughest dilemmas I've had as a coach," Joe Paterno said afterward, admitting he had talked to a lot of Penn State players, getting their feelings about which guy should be in there. "They have no feeling on which kid," he said, acknowledging it's time to get a handle on the issue.

On the other sideline, Addazio said Penn State's stacking eight in the box forced Temple to go to the passing game to "try to loosen that thing up." Owls star back Bernard Pierce had only four carries in the second half, after carrying 13 times for 43 yards in the first half. He finished with 50 yards. "We need to get a handle on what was gumming up the run game," Addazio said.

The place wasn't full, but it's hard to kill anybody for it, not in these economic times. Temple's athletic department operates in the red, and obviously this game is a huge moneymaker. Upper-deck tickets were available for $60. A lower price means more people but less revenue.

Tough to argue with any Nittany Lions fan who doesn't think the current product out of State College isn't quite worth that. Penn State had more than half of the nonstudents but returned almost 3,000 unused tickets. Paid attendance was 57,323. Temple announced that its student attendance of 10,886 was a school record for any sporting event.

"One game does not define us," Addazio said afterward. "What defines us is the whole season. . . . This is Philadelphia's Division I football team."

That's been true for decades. What is new the last couple of years is that, in addition to winning a bunch of Mid-American Conference games, the Owls are causing agita for Pennsylvania's preeminent Division I football program.

The highest postgame praise Paterno could offer for his team was, "I thought we hung in there."

And for this fall, maybe Nittany lovebirds should give a second thought about making football Saturdays part of a special moment.


Contact staff writer Mike Jensen at 215-854-4489, mjensen@phillynews.com, or @jensenoffcampus on Twitter. Read his "Off Campus" columns at www.philly.com/offcampus

 

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