Updated Wed, Apr 11, 2012 9:04 pm
It was the drive Ohio didn't have at Buffalo.
It was the drive it couldn't muster against Ball State.
But, in the season's most crucial game, Ohio got that drive against Temple, and because of it the Bobcats are holding the steering wheel in the MAC East.
The 'Cats drove 75 yards with under five minutes left - capped by a Tyler Tettleton to Donte Foster touchdown - to beat Temple 35-31 and climb into the driver's seat in the Eastern Division of the Mid-American Conference. Ohio is now 6-3 overall and 3-2 in the conference, while the Owls have lost two straight and fall to 3-3 in the MAC.
"It was a huge play for him to come back to it," Tettleton said of the final touchdown, with just 1:46 to go. "I kind of trusted [Foster] to get open and come to the right because I didn't have anything after that and he made a great play."
The touchdown catch by Foster was a redemption catch for the redshirt sophomore. The Oklahoma-native fumbled in the first quarter to set up Temple's first touchdown, and has been largely ghost-like for large chunks of the season. Foster had no catches combined against Buffalo and Ball State.
"It was a huge play for him to come back to it," Tettleton said, noting the offense's game plan was the reason for Foster's downward production in recent weeks. "He made a huge play at the end, and I'm glad I'm around him. It makes my job easier."
The season's most important drive started with 4:46 to go in the fourth quarter, immediately after Temple had scored to take a 31-28 lead. A long pass to running back Donte Harden - for 50 yards - set up Ohio at the Temple 25-yard-line.
That was the same play - a fake handoff, a small Tettleton roll-out and a throw to the back side, where Harden had leaked out of the backfield - on which the senior running back scored to cap Ohio's first touchdown drive.
Back to the critical fourth-quarter drive: A couple Beau Blankenship runs later, Ohio faced a third-and-goal from the five.
On that play, Tettleton - 15/24, 258 yards, three passing touchdowns and another rushing - was given more time to throw than Kim Kardashian's marriage lasted, rolled left and threw a pass to Foster, whose intelligent route back to the ball saved a potential pass-breakup and scored the game-winning touchdown.
"We can't get through this whole [press conference] without congratulating our offensive line," Harden said. "They did a hell of a job tonight."
"I thought that they played a complete game," head coach Frank Solich said. "[Temple] gets sacks on people and they a lot of get tackles for losses, and that's the thing that we were concerned about, was establishing field position."
"You don't do it by getting sacked…or if you can't get any first downs. Our line must have played extremely well up front against a very good Temple defense."
Tettleton was only sacked twice, and Ohio ran 67 plays for 521 yards, which is the most Temple has allowed by more than 200. Only Toledo has scored more points on the Owls in 2011 (36) than Ohio did, and the 'Cats did it on national television.
In his second-to-last home game, Harden broke former running back Chris Garrett's all-time Ohio record for all-purpose yards in a single game with 322 (184 rushing, 75 receiving, 63 return yards) and gashed the normally stout Temple defense. The Owls had entered Wednesday night's prime time contest in the national top-10 in seven defensive categories.
The fourth quarter was as wacky as football gets, outside of watching a random Tuesday night Northern Illinois/Toledo game. Four lead changes kept a strong Peden Stadium crowd loud to the final buzzer.
Even if the last touchdown drive will get the most buzz, the play of the game was turned in earlier in the crazy quarter. On a third-and-seven from the Temple 30, down by three points at 24-21, Tettleton threw a deep outside post pass to LaVon Brazill, who dove, tipped the ball and caught it at the two-yard-line. The play was reviewed and upheld.
If referees would have ruled that the ball touched the ground - it was extremely close - Ohio would have faced a fourth down from the 30-yard-line, and would have been forced to either kick a 47-yard field goal (Matt Weller had already missed from 48 and 53) or go for it on fourth-and-seven.
Instead, on the next play, Tettleton found tight end Jordan Thompson for a two-yard score.
But it was a struggle defensively, even if it was a fascinating game to witness. Temple's Chris Coyer was an absolute game-changer for the Owls.
The sophomore was only used as a wildcat quarterback for Temple before Wednesday night - he hadn't attempted a pass this season - but was placed in the game as the every-down play caller in Temple's third possession. Coyer possessed a very different skill set - very mobile, throws left handed - than normal starter Chester Stewart, and confused Ohio for the entire ballgame. Coyer rushed for 188 yards and passed for 123 more with three touchdowns.
"We were expecting to see Chester Stewart to be playing a majority of the snaps," Ohio linebacker Noah Keller (15 tackles) said. "It was definitely something we had to make adjustments to."
Ohio held the conference's best running back, Bernard Pierce, to just 84 yards on 22 carries (outside of his 20-yard touchdown run, Pierce averaged just three yards per carry and was largely ineffective against an amped-up Ohio defensive front).
"The defense didn't play good," Keller said. "But we played good enough."
Good enough is, well, good enough. Ohio's sixth win of the season made it bowl eligible, but more importantly it controls its fate in the MAC East. With three games remaining, if
Ohio wins out it will represent the East in the conference championship game in Detroit December 3.
It's no secret that Ohio's back-to-back conference losses in October put players, coaches and fans in a terrible mood. But for as bleak as the outlook seemed after Ohio's loss to Ball State (yes, less than 21 days ago), the 'Cats are fortunate to find themselves in the position in which they are right now.
Win out and all is forgiven.
Slideshow: Ohio football vs. Temple
Photos by: Ryan Young
Jordan Thompson celebrates after Ohio football's 35-31 win over Temple at Peden Stadium.
Tyler Tettleton (left) and Donte Harden were on the same page against Temple. Harden rushed for 184 yards against the Owls in a 35-31 win.
Ohio University students rush the field after the Bobcats' 35-31 win over Temple.
Ohio cornerback Travis Carrie puts pressure on Temple quarterback Chris Coyer in Ohio's 35-31 win over Temple.