WRITTEN BY: TOM HANSLIN @tomhanslin
ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Over the course of three weeks of practice, No. 24 Temple never prepared to face a Wake Forest team with an up-tempo offense. There was no history of it, no game film or plan around it, and no trail of clues. A fast-paced offensive scheme was going to throw any defense off its charted course, and the Demon Deacons knew it.
This strategy, which generated 31 unanswered points on 262 total yards of offense in the first half, was enough production to hold off any chance of a late Temple comeback, as Wake Forest won the Military Bowl, 34-26, before 22,656 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium on Tuesday.
Temple (10-4) entered the game with a chance to secure its first 11-win season in program history. Instead, the Owls fell one game short, again, ending 2016 as winners of 10 games for the second consecutive year. It was also their second bowl loss in two straight bowl appearances (Dec. 2015 vs. Toledo).
Temple interim head coach Ed Foley, who took over the helm three weeks ago after Matt Rhule’s departure to Baylor, had only a few answers to explain Wake Forest’s (7-6) unanticipated attack.
“We have a process we follow and certain way that we like to play football, and we did it for one half today,” Foley said. “Winning football games is really hard at the college level. If you’re looking at something in front of you that’s really precious, that’s really hard to do, you can’t take it for granted. You have to play a full 60 minutes of football. We were trying to be the best Temple team ever. Obviously we’re tied for the best Temple team ever, which doesn’t sound great, but we are champions. I was proud to be their coach for the last 21 days.”
The Owls’ strong suit, which was a Top-10 nationally ranked defense, failed to show up early on, and allowed 368 total yards on 72 plays.
“They ran speed ball. We hadn’t practiced it all week, and they just gassed us,” Temple linebacker Avery Williams said. “They played better than us in the first half, and we couldn’t do anything about it. They don’t run (speed ball). They never run it. It was annoying to see them out-pace us.”
While Temple’s defensive effort was uncharacteristic, so was its ground game. During the Owls’ seven-game win streak heading into the bowl, the team averaged 235.4 yards rushing per game. Against the Demon Deacons’ defensive front, Temple rushed for minus-20 yards on 23 attempts.
“We knew that on third down, they were going to blitz a lot — they outplayed us,” said Temple halfback Jahad Thomas, who finished his senior season with 13 touchdowns. “I have to give credit to Wake Forest — they played a hell of a game. They had us schemed up pretty well. We just fell a little short. This loss definitely hurts.”
Temple quarterback Phillip Walker experienced emotional and physical pain. In the first quarter, Walker dislocated his right ring finger but continued to play, finishing the game 28-of-49 for 396 passing yards with two touchdowns and an interception.
“I think my finger is broke, honestly, but I played through it,” Walker said. “I couldn’t squeeze my hand at all, but it is what it is. I just went out there and kept playing.”
Despite trailing 31-7 with three minutes left before halftime, Temple rallied with 19 unanswered points, trimming its deficit to five, 31-26 with 3:56 left in the fourth quarter. But on the ensuing kickoff, an 80-yard kick return from John Armstrong helped Wake Forest set up a 30-yard field goal, which made the score 34-26 with 1:59 remaining.
Freshman Isaiah Wright then returned the following kickoff 47 yards to midfield, but the Owls’ chances of scoring fell short after miscommunication between Walker and receiver Adonis Jennings on fourth down and short.
“I was expecting to throw a fade and he ran a hitch, so it was a badly executed play by me and Adonis,” Walker said.
But the tandem did have some early success. Temple’s first play from scrimmage in the first quarter was a 48-yard catch-and-run to Jennings for a touchdown, which helped make the score 7-0 following a Sean Chandler interception. To start the third quarter, Jennings scored on a 58-yard bomb from Walker, which placed the Owls within two possessions. Jennings finished with seven catches for 154 yards.
In between the two touchdowns came four from Wake Forest alone. Demon Deacons’ quarterback John Wolford connected with tight end Cam Seringe for a 41-yard touchdown up the seam to help make it 7-7, which was then followed by a 20-yard score by wide receiver Tabari Hines. Following a muffed punt by Chandler, Wake Forest recovered the fumble inside the red zone, scoring on an 11-yard rush from Cade Carney one play later. The Demon Deacons’ final touchdown came from Matt Colburn on a three-yard dash.
Wake Forest kicker Mike Weaver made field goals from 25 and 30-yards deep, while Temple’s Aaron Boumerhi hit four with his longest from 45.
Following Jennings’ second touchdown, Wolford sustained a neck injury after being tackled by Derek Thomas. He was forced to leave the game and was replaced by backup Kyle Kearns.
“I think it was a stinger, and then my neck got very stiff after I got on the sideline,” said Wolford, who finished 10-of-19 for 183 yards. “Obviously, I started off with a horrible mistake but I settled in. The offensive line did a great job; receivers were making plays and making people miss. I think that was the capability of our offense the whole season and it was nice to finally show some explosiveness and some execution in the last game.”
It was Wake Forest’s first bowl appearance since 2011, and first bowl win since 2008.
The page now turns for Temple, which will begin its new regime under head coach Geoff Collins in 2017. Despite double-digit wins and an American Athletic Conference championship, the four-year journey for the Owls’ talented senior class concludes with a bad taste.
“It pains me right now like I can’t even describe, and I know that it’s only going to get worse,” Foley said. “I know that once it all syncs in on how close we came to winning this game, and how close we came to being the best Temple team ever, I think it’s going to hurt worse than it does right now. It’s really disappointing to me.”
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