With an off-field controversy seemingly behind them, Wake Forest came into Tuesday afternoon looking for its first postseason win since 2008. After two quarters of play, they’re 30 minutes away from ending that nearly decade-long drought.
Thanks in very large part to a stifling defense, Wake jumped out to a 14-7 first-quarter lead on Temple in the Military Bowl Presented by Northrup Grumman and extended it even further in the second to take a 31-10 advantage into the halftime locker room. How stifling was the Demon Deacon defense? The Owls scored on a 48-yard touchdown pass on their first play from scrimmage. The remainder of the half, the Owls managed 89 yards of total offense.
Wake’s run defense was particularly effective, holding Temple to just 14 yards on 15 carries, with 23 of those yards coming on a late carry by Jahad Thomas. The Owls entered today’s game fourth in the AAC and 51st nationally in averaging just over 191 yards per game on the ground.
John Wolford nearly accounted for a majority of the offense for both teams, passing for 183 yards and a pair of first-half touchdowns in helping the Demon Deacons grab a solid first-half lead. Temple’s offense (137) and Wake’s rushing offense (80) accounted for a combined 217 yards as, aside from Wolford’s performance, it was a decidedly defensive first two quarters of play.
The Owls are currently riding a seven-game winning streak, which included a win in the AAC championship game. That proved to be Matt Rhule‘s last game as the head coach as he left for the Baylor job and is not coaching this postseason contest.
The Demon Deacons, meanwhile, had lost two of their las eight after winning four straight to start the 2016 season.
The Temple Owls (10-3) did their part to make the job a little bit easier for the College Football Playoff’s selection committee in the next 24 hours. A 34-10 victory in the American Athletic Conference championship game in Annapolis against No. 19 Navy (9-3) will more than likely mean MAC champion Western Michigan will be heading to the Cotton Bowl as the highest-ranked Group of Five conference champion. For the Owls, it is the first conference championship in program history since 1967, and just the second conference crown for the Owls.
Temple took care of business in the first half by scoring touchdowns on each of their first three offensive possessions to go up 21-0, stunning the home Navy crowd in the process while key Midshipmen went down with injuries. Starting quarterback Will Worth was among those lost for the day in the first half, while Temple’s Phillip Walker was tossing two touchdown completions with great confidence; one 22-yard pass to Ventell Bryant and a 56-yard deep ball to Keith Kirkwood. Jahad Thomas ran in the first touchdown of the day for the Owls on the opening drive of the game.
For the first time in program history, Temple has won 10 games in a season in back-to-back years. This also marks Temple’s conference championship game victory, a year after playing in the first AAC Championship Game last season as East Division champion on the road against Houston. Perhaps the experience of last season came into play, as did the experience of playing Army in the season opener (which Temple lost). If he has not already, expect Temple head coach Matt Rhule to start hearing his name in a few more rumors and his phone to be a bit more busy as the coaching carousel continues to spin.
Temple is not expected to essentially come out of nowhere to pass an undefeated Western Michigan with three losses on their record, so the Owls will be first in line among the AAC programs to slot into bowl games with conference affiliations this season. A slot in the Miami Beach Bowl would be a nice reward, but a chance to play an ACC opponent in the Military Bowl may also be an option. That would mean returning to Annapolis for a second straight game in Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
Navy already had a spot in the bowl lineup reserved due to an association with the Armed Forces Bowl. The bowl invitation has already been represented but the Naval Academy was wise to hold off on accepting it until known whether or not a bigger bowl game could be on the horizon. That will not happen this year, as Navy is eliminated from the Group of Five New Years six conversation with the loss to Temple. So Navy will be heading to the Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth, Texas on December 23. Their opponent is contracted to come from the Big 12, but that spot could be open if the Big 12 cannot fill all of its bowl spots. North Texas could benefit from such a situation, and having a team from Texas would be an ideal alternative for the bowl game. Navy still has one more game to play though, as they play rival Army in the annual Army-Navy Game next weekend in Baltimore. Considering some of the injuries that came into play Saturday, Navy’s health should be a concern with a rested Army coming up next week.
Navy will play the remainder of the American Athletic Conference championship game without starting quarterback Will Worth, Toneo Gulley or Daryll Bonner. All three left the game with injuries in the first half of the American Athletic Conference championship game in Annapolis. As if that were not enough, the Temple Owls were already up 21-0 at the time and looking to slam the door shut on Navy in its first conference championship game appearance in program history, and on Navy’s hopes of reaching the New Years Six by slipping past MAC champion Western Michigan. Temple leads Navy at the halftime break, 24-3.
Temple, playing in its second straight AAC game after losing at Houston last season, marched right down the field on the Midshipmen on the game’s opening drive. Jahad Thomas capped off the well-executed 12-play drive with a 15-yard touchdown run. The Owls pushed their lead to 14-0 on their next possession after the defense came up with a fourth-down stop at the Temple 41-yard line. Phillip Walker completed a 22-yard touchdown pass to Ventell Bryant. Navy would then uncharacteristically fumble the football away on the fourth play of the ensuing drive, leading to a third Temple touchdown, a 56-yard touchdown pass from Walker to Keith Kirkwood.
Temple’s Avery Williams was ejected in the second quarter for a targeting foul on backup Navy quarterback Zach Abbey. The helmet-to-helmet hit left Williams thriving in pain after the play before walking off the field as the review was underway. Abbey was playing in place of a banged-up Worth, who hobbled off the field moments earlier. Abbey would toss his first completion of his college career later on the drive, which ended with a field goal to get Navy on the scoreboard.
A late interception thrown by Abbey allowed Temple a chance to tack on a late field goal by Aaron Boumerhi from 48 yards out. Just moments earlier, Boumerhi missed from 50 yards.
If Temple goes on to win the AAC championship, it would seem very likely Western Michigan will head to the Cotton Bowl as the highest-ranked Group of Five conference champion. Even with a win, there may not be enough Temple can do with three losses this season to wiggle past the Broncos.
Toledo lost coach Matt Campbell to the Iowa State job earlier this month, while Temple coach Matt Rhule rejected overtures from Power Five programs to stay in Philadelphia. But in the Boca Raton Bowl, it was the team that lost its head coach that played far better than the team that kept its guy.
Toledo rolled No. 24 Temple, 32-17, on a soggy evening Tuesday at Howard Schnellenberger Stadium, giving the Rockets bowl wins in back-to-back season for the first time since 1969-1971 (a stretch in which it won all 35 games it played).
Quarterback Philip Ely, the ex-Alabama quarterback who reportedly was denied an appeal for a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA, shined against a strong Temple defense, completing 20 of 28 passes for 285 yards and two touchdowns. His 80-yard scoring strike to receiver Cody Thompson early in the fourth quarter was the push Toledo needed for a comfortable win against an Owls offense that spun its metaphorical wheels all evening.
Owls running back Jahad Thomas suffered a leg injury late in the second quarter and did not return, though the guy who rushed for over 1,200 yards in the regular season wasn’t effective before leaving the game (eight carries, five yards). With Thomas stuffed and then taken out of the game, P.J. Walker & Co. struggled to move the ball and gained only 67 yards in the first half.
Temple finally got in the end zone with 2:50 remaining when Kip Patton plunged two yards for a touchdown, and Walker miraculously kept the two-point conversion attempt alive long enough to find a wide open Robby Anderson to pull the Owls within eight.
Toledo narrowly recovered the ensuing onside kick attempt — Temple kicker Tyler Mayes appeared to fall on the ball, but must’ve lost it in the scrum, and both team’s players pointed to indicate their team had possession — and Kareem Hunt promptly sealed the Rockets’ win with a 41-yard touchdown run.
Toledo finished the season with a 10-2 record, its first double-digit win season since 2001. Temple entered the game with 10 wins, representing its best season since 1979.
Toledo leads Temple at halftime of the Boca Raton Bowl, 12-3, but the more concerning development for Matt Rhule’s Owls was running back Jahad Thomas leaving the game late in the second quarter with an apparent leg injury.
Rockets defensive tackle Treyvon Hester rolled up on Thomas’ leg on a running play, and the Owls’ leading rusher limped off the field with help. Rhule told the ESPN broadcast Thomas’ injury didn’t look good, but was unsure if he’d be able to return for the second half.
Thomas was struggling as Temple’s offense slogged to only 67 first-half yards, rushing eight times for five yards in a sloppy, off-and-on rainy evening in Florida.
Toledo quarterback Phillip Ely — who was denied a sixth year of eligibility, according to ESPN’s Brett McMurphy — sliced through Temple’s defense for 168 yards and a touchdown in the first half. The Rockets also scored on a safety when linebacker Ja’Wuan Woodley blew up the mesh point of a read option and forced the ball out of the back of the end zone.