After taking a helmet to his left knee in a bad loss a week ago, Montel Harris barely practiced as Temple prepared for a critical game at Army. Seems like a good idea in retrospect.
Harris rushed for a career-high 351 yards and seven touchdowns, Matt Brown scored twice before leaving the game with an injury, and Temple beat Army 63-32 on Saturday for its fifth straight win in the series.
Harris scored on a 60-yard run and a 1-yard run in the second quarter, a 1-yard run and a 37-yarder in the third, and a 2-yarder, another 37-yarder and another 1-yarder in the fourth to come within one of the NCAA record set in 1990 by Howard Griffith of Illinois against Southern Illinois.
"It's a blessing to have a record like that," said Harris, who had 36 carries. "Our goal is always to run the ball well and have a great game. I didn't see this coming. I started off kind of slow at the beginning of the game."
The heroics for Harris began after Brown limped off the field with a hamstring injury after scoring on runs of 12 and 36 yards to stake the Owls to a 14-0 first-quarter lead.
"He (Brown) said, 'You've got to pick it up, it's all on you now,' " Harris said after just the 95th 300-yard rushing game in NCAA history. "Whenever you have a big player go down, you know you've got to try to step it up, fill his shoes. That's what I was just trying to do. We knew we all had to pick it up."
The Owls (4-6) scored only 54 points combined in losing their previous four games, all in the Big East, and they stopped their skid by beating the nation's top rushing team at its own game, gaining 534 yards rushing on 57 carries. Army (2-9), which finished with 407 yards rushing on 62 carries, has lost 16 straight against Big East competition.
"It was a statement win, a statement that we still fight," Temple coach Steve Addazio said. "The team's got a lot of fight in them. We needed to do that. That needed to happen. It builds confidence. It was special to do it here."
Temple, in its first season back in the Big East since 2004, has one more game, at home against Syracuse next week, and is trying to schedule a 12th game in Hawaii.
The loss spoiled Senior Day at Michie Stadium for Army's 22 seniors, though fourth-year quarterback Trent Steelman left Blaik Field for the final time with more academy records in tow. The Black Knights have archrival Navy in early December, one final chance to finish the year on a positive note.
"I don't think it's the way you want to finish any game," said Steelman, who scored on runs of 7, 1 and 56 yards. "At the same time, we have one more. We can still go out on the right note and finish the season the right way."
Steelman rushed for 139 yards, giving him five straight 100-yard games and 44 career rushing touchdowns, both school records. Glenn Davis held the record of 43 rushing touchdowns during his stellar career on Army's great teams of the mid-1940s.
It also was Steelman's 12th career 100-yard game, one more than the record held by Tory Crawford for most by an Army quarterback, and Steelman boosted his season rushing total to 1,152 yards, a season record for an academy quarterback.
The Owls built a 28-10 halftime as Harris gained 173 yards on just 16 carries, either bulling his way past defenders or racing untouched as the Army defense repeatedly broke down as it did earlier in the season in losses to Northern Illinois and Wake Forest.
"It's hard to put into words," senior defensive back Josh Jackson said. "Being the last game I'm going to play in this stadium, it's unfortunate. At the end of the day, hopefully, there's a new day. We have Navy in our sights, and we have to clear and look forward to that one."
Harris scored his first two touchdowns after Brown had begun to reprise his performance from two years ago at Michie Stadium. Subbing for injured star Bernard Pierce in 2010, Brown rushed for a career-high 226 yards on 28 carries and scored four times in a 42-35 victory.
The 5-foot-5, 165-pound Brown was unstoppable again early Saturday, but after Army moved to 14-7 on Steelman's 7-yard run early in the second, Brown limped off the field moments later holding his left hamstring.
When Larry Dixon's 37-yard run set up Eric Osteen's 37-yard field goal, the Black Knights had closed within 14-10 late in the second quarter. That's when Harris took over, scoring twice in the final 4 minutes. The second, a 1-yard run, came after quarterback Clinton Granger completed a critical shovel pass to Kenny Harper on a third-and-11 play.
Army came out in the second half with a vengeance. The Black Knights scored in four plays that took just 63 seconds. Raymond Maples broke a 24-yard run and Dixon followed with a 43-yard dash down the left side to set up Steelman's 1-yard touchdown.
Maples added a two-point conversion to move Army within 28-18, but Temple responded by driving 75 yards in 11 plays that took 6:15 off the clock. Granger's quarterback keeper for 24 yards on a third-and-5 play kept the drive alive and Harris scored from inside the 1 on another third down for a 35-18 lead midway through the third.
"I don't like being stopped short, especially on the goal line," Harris said. "I just pride myself on trying to finish the play."
Steelman's 56-yard touchdown run gave the Black Knights renewed hope, but Harris quickly dashed it with two more scores, his 2-yard run on the first play of the fourth quarter making it 49-24.