By Sam Bush

Temple rallied like wounded Owls yesterday in the Military Bowl but fell short to Wake Forest won 34-26 before an announced crowd of 26,656 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis.

The Demon Deacons, who had to withstand a spirited comeback by the Owls. Quarterback Philip “P.J.” Walker was the catalyst as Temple scored 16 straight points in the second half to pull within 31-26 late in the fourth quarter.

John Armstrong saved the day for the Demon Deacons with an 80-yard kickoff return that set up a 30-yard field goal by Mike Weaver. Temple still had a chance to tie with a touchdown and two-point conversion, but was unable to pick up a first down on its final possession.

“It was great to see because we weren’t moving the ball very well,” Clawson said when asked about Armstrong’s long return. “The runback was huge and the field goal to make it an eight-point game was huge.”

Walker completed 28 of 49 passes for 396 yards and two touchdowns for Temple (10-4), which finished 24th in the final College Football Playoff rankings, but was beaten out by Western Michigan for the Group of Five berth in the Cotton Bowl. Ventell Bryant and Adonis Jennings had 305 receiving yards between them for the Owls, who have not won a bowl game since 2011.

“We have a certain way we have to play football and we did it for one half today. You have to do it for the whole game,” interim coach Ed Foley said. “I was really proud of the way they came back and made it a one-score game. I just wish we could have played a full 60 minutes.”

Temple was attempting to set a single-season school record by reaching 11 victories. The Owls had to settle for having back-to-back 10-win seasons for the first time in program history.

“We were trying to be the best Temple team ever. Obviously we’re tied for the best team ever, which doesn’t sound great,” Foley said. “It pains me right now like I can’t even describe, and I know it’s only going to get worse once it all sinks in. When I think about how close we came to winning this game and how close we came to being the best Temple team ever …. it’s really disappointing to me.”

Jennings recorded seven catches for 154 yards and two touchdowns while Bryant added 11 grabs for 151 yards for the American Athletic Conference champions. It has been a disappointing postseason for the AAC, which is now 1-5 in bowl games.

John Wolford completed 10 of 19 passes for 183 yards and two touchdowns as the Demon Deacons secured their first winning season since 2008.

Running backs Cade Carney and Matt Colburn combined to rush for 131 yards and two touchdowns for Wake (7-6), which also had not won in the postseason since 2008. The Demon Deacons and many of their fans stormed the field afterward to celebrate bringing an end to seven straight losing seasons.

Wake was coming off consecutive 3-9 campaigns under head coach Dave Clawson, who turned things around during his third year at the helm.

Wake Forest could not have gotten off to a worse start as Colburn was picked off on the third play of the game and Temple scored a touchdown on the fourth.

Free safety Sean Chandler intercepted a pass that was badly overthrown, giving Temple the ball in Wake Forest territory. Walker went for the end zone on first down and dropped a beautiful bomb right into the arms of Jennings for a 48-yard touchdown that made it 7-0 with just 1:27 elapsed.

The Demon Deacons did an outstanding job of overcoming that rough beginning, scoring the next 31 points to take a commanding lead. Wolford tossed touchdown passes of 41 yards to tight end Cam Serigne and 20 yards to wide receiver Tabari Hines as Wake took a 14-7 lead at the 5:20 mark of the first quarter.

Temple’s offense suddenly went silent, picking up just three first downs and having to punt on three straight possessions. Wake Forest also capitalized on a pair of turnovers in Temple territory with long snapper Dayton Diemel recovering a fumble by punt returner Sean Chandler and defensive end Duke Ejiofor intercepting a tipped pass at the line of scrimmage.

Carney scored on an 11-yard run immediately after the fumble while the pickoff led to a 3-yard run by Colburn as the Demon Deacons increased their lead to 31-7 with 3:02 left in the first half.

“We pride ourselves on running the football and stopping the run. We didn’t run the football at all and that’s a credit to (Wake Forest) for stopping the run. On offense, they ran a zone read system against us and we were on our heels a bit early,” Foley said. “We did not win the line of scrimmage at all in the first half and that put us in a big hole.”

Kicker Aaron Boumerhi booted a 45-yard field goal with four seconds remaining to finally put Temple on the board again. The Owls had been held scoreless for 28 minutes and 29 seconds.

During a halftime interview broadcast over the public address system, a feisty Foley declared that Temple “came to fight and would fight to the end, I promise you that.”

Sure enough, the Owls came out of intermission and scored a touchdown on their third play from scrimmage.

Jennings caught a short out pass and did the rest himself, making one defender miss then turning on the jets in outracing several others to complete a 58-yard scoring strike that cut the deficit to 31-17.

“We talked about going out and playing Temple football, about being physical and having fun,” Foley said when asked about the halftime message. “When things started sliding away from us in the first half, we got a little tight. We were trying not to make a mistake. If you do nothing else, fly around and have fun so you can walk off the field with your head held high.”

Temple’s comeback chances received a boost on the ensuing possession when Wolford suffered a neck injury and was forced to leave the game for good. Wake Forest had to turn the offense over to redshirt freshman Kyle Kearns, who had seen limited action in four games.

Kearns promptly spoiled a promising drive by badly overthrowing a receiver and getting intercepted by Randall in the end zone. Boumerhi followed with a 24-yard field goal that brought Temple within two scores, 31-20 with 3:51 to go in the third period.

Boumerhi made a 32-yard field goal at the 9:36 mark of the fourth quarter, reducing the Wake lead to 31-23 and giving Temple an opportunity to tie with a touchdown and two-point conversion.

It appeared Temple would get that opportunity when a pass interference penalty set up first-and-goal from the Wake Forest 7-yard line. However, Walker unwisely scrambled deep into his own backfield on a pass play and was thrown for a 22-yard loss by Ejiofor and defensive tackle Willie Yarbary.

The Owls were forced to settle for a fourth field goal by Boumerhi, whose 38-yarder made the score 31-26 with 3:56 to go.

“Obviously, our defense did a very good job in the red zone. We’ve played really good red zone defense all year, and that was really the difference in the game today,” Clawson said. “We scored touchdowns in the red zone and made them kick field goals.”

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