PISCATAWAY — Rutgers saved its season with a couple of momentous plays on both sides of the ball in the final two minutes against Temple.
Embattled Gary Nova threw a 33-yard touchdown pass to Leonte Carroo on a fourth-and-10 play with 35 seconds to go and Rutgers snapped a two-game losing streak with an improbable 23-20 victory on Saturday.
The eight-play, 72-yard march with no time outs came a little more than a minute after linebackers Kevin Snyder and Steve Longa stopped Kenneth Harper for a 1-yard loss on a fourth-and-1 at the Scarlet Knights 27 to give them one last chance.
"I had no doubt we were going to win the game once we got it back after our defense stopped them," said Nova, who threw for 371 yards and three touchdowns in a week where his job was on the line because of poor play in the previous two games.
"I knew we were going to go out and score or get a field goal and force overtime. We weren't going to lose the game right there."
Carroo, who had career highs of seven receptions for 147 yards, made sure Rutgers (5-3, 2-2 American Athletic Conference) won with his second 33-yard, fourth-down TD catch of the season and his second TD of the game. It was another go pattern, the same one he used to score against Arkansas in another comeback win.
It also came on a play that Temple (1-8, 0-5) sent the house on a blitz and didn't get to Nova.
"It's an all or nothing play in terms of, yes, you either make the first down or the game is over, but it's not just an all or nothing play to Leonte," Rutgers coach Kyle Flood said.
"It just so happens he has had the one-on-one and we feel like he's gonna win, and he has had separation in all three of those cases where he's caught it. Fortunate for us we can put him out there."
There would have been no heroics had it not been for Snyder and Longa, who took advantage of a blitz change up called by coordinator Dave Cohen with just under 2:00 minutes to play.
He had them rush up the gaps between the center and guard instead of going outside to stop Harper, who caught a touchdown and ran for another.
"This feels awesome," said Longa, who had 12 tackles, the same as Snyder. "This is the things you work during the week for. We knew we put too much work in in the week. It was our game, we couldn't go out without a W in our house."
It marked the second straight week that Temple came up short in the fourth quarter. It was outscored 24-14 in a 59-49 loss to SMU last weekend.
"At the end of the day, it came down to one play you have to make on fourth-and-1," first-year Temple coach Matt Rhule said. "The players understood that we had to have that half yard if we wanted to win. If we make that, the game is over and we run out the clock."
The Owls came up 1 ½ yards short on the big fourth down.
"It hurt a lot, but we're all learning from it," said Owls true freshman quarterback P.J. Walker, the former Elizabeth High School product who threw two touchdowns and two interceptions in his return to New Jersey.
"We're taking it all in and making sure it never happens again next year or the next three games. We'll learn from this and be prepared for the next time it happens."
Harper had put the Owls ahead 20-16 with a 25-yard run with 10:57 to play. Walker threw for 203 yards and two touchdowns, a 26-yarder to Robby Anderson in the first quarter and a 4-yarder to Harper in the second.
Rutgers, which also got a 30-yard field goal from Kyle Federico, iced the game when converted receiver Ruhann Peele forced and recovered a fumble by Ryan Alderman in the closing seconds.
Nova, who had to beat out Chas Dodd to get the start this week, hit 27 of 38 attempts. His other TD to Carroo covered 34 yards, which came one play after Jamal Merrell intercepted a pass.
Fullback Michael Burton caught a 4-yard TD early in the third quarter as the Scarlet Knights closed a 13-3 halftime deficit to 13-9 after missing the extra point.
After Carroo's first touchdown gave Rutgers a 16-13 lead, Walker led Temple on a 62-yard drive that Harper capped with an untouched run into the end zone.
Rutgers had a chance to retake the lead when it moved to the Owls 17, but Justin Goodwin fumbled and linebacker Blaze Caponegro recovered with 8:54 to go. The Owls then ran out most of the clock and would have won the game had not Snyder and Longa stopped Harper.