ANNAPOLIS, Md. – With four minutes, 13 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, it looked like poor special teams’ play and two interceptions from redshirt junior quarterback Vaughn Charlton would hand the football team its third loss of the season.
Enter freshman running back Bernard Pierce.
His running on the Owls’ last crucial drive carried Temple to a 27-24 win against Navy.
Charlton handed Pierce the ball, and he responded with a 12-yard run on a first-and-10 play from the 41-yard line.
After an incomplete pass and another run by Pierce for six yards, Charlton put Temple’s five-game winning streak in Pierce’s hands.
On the ensuing play, Pierce ran 41 yards to the end zone, and the Owls came from behind to beat Navy. Remember, Navy came from behind against Temple last year in overtime and won, 33-27.
Pierce’s 267 yards on 29 carries (which broke the 1,000-yard rushing barrier for the season) led the Owls to a 6-2 record and six straight wins for the first time since 1974. The Owls clinched at least a .500 record for the first time since 1990 and are now officially bowl eligible.
Temple’s win also snapped Navy’s five-game winning streak and dropped the Midshipmen’s record to 6-3.
“We are built for the fourth quarter,” coach Al Golden said. “Nobody panicked. Give so much credit to Navy for playing the way they played, but I thought our kids just hung in there and really wanted it at the end.
“This team is different,” he added. “This team loves each other. This team has unity. This team won’t crack. They just hang in there and stay together. I see a team that has some poise and believes in the brand.”
Entering the game, Temple’s No. 15 rushing defense and Navy’s No. 3 rushing offense looked to be the marquee matchup on paper.
The Midshipmen did rack up 227 rushing yards on 62 carries.
But late in the game, when the Owls defense needed a stop, the unit came through. The two series prior to Pierce’s game-winning touchdown, the Owls clamped down, especially on the last series, when they forced a three-and-out.
And once Pierce gave Temple the lead, the defense rushed junior quarterback Ricky Dobbs. He threw four incomplete passes (the Midshipmen attempted just seven all day). Sophomore defensive end Adrian Robinson Jr. sealed the victory with a five-yard sack on fourth-and-10.
“This is our fourth year playing against the option, and I think that really helped,” senior defensive tackle Andre Neblett said. “We tried to stay disciplined and make the plays we can make.”
Prior to that fourth quarter, the Owls needed two record-setting plays to overcome special teams’ gaffes and take a 14-10 halftime lead.
Down 3-0 after a 30-yard Navy field goal, Pierce broke through for a 68-yard touchdown run, his longest rush from the line of scrimmage this season. He gave the Owls a 7-3 lead within the span of two plays and 44 seconds.
Pierce racked up 96 yards on 14 carries in the first half. Navy had amassed 106 yards on 30 carries by halftime. With 38 yards rushing on the Owls’ opening drive of the second half, Pierce eclipsed 100 yards rushing for the fifth time in his last six games and put the Owls in position to take a 17-10 lead thanks to a career-high 45-yard field goal by freshman kicker Brandon McManus.
The Owls’ special teams unit didn’t play very special later on in second half, however. On fourth-and-11 from Temple’s 13-yard line, junior punter Jeff Wathne mishandled a low snap, dropped it and then attempted to regain composure and punt. The punt only made it to the Owls’ 12-yard line, where Navy sophomore outside linebacker Jarrod Shannon picked it up. After Shannon fumbled, sophomore cornerback David Wright recovered the ball and ran it into the end zone for a touchdown and a 10-7 lead for Navy.
The special teams’ miscues for both teams didn’t end there.
On the ensuing kickoff, sophomore wide receiver James Nixon returned his second kickoff for a touchdown this year. Nixon ran 100 yards, a Temple and Navy-Marine Corps Stadium record. Earlier in the season, he returned a kickoff in the game against Buffalo 92 yards for a touchdown.
Junior wide receiver Delano Green then fumbled the ball on a punt halfway through the third quarter and gave the Midshipmen prime field position at the Owls’ 29-yard line. Navy capitalized and tied the game at 17 all.
Game Notes: The Owls improve to 2-7-3 all-time in games played on Halloween. Their last victory on Oct. 31 came against Holy Cross in 1936. They won that one, 3-0. The Midshipmen haven’t fared much better, as their record on Halloween drops to 1-13-1 all-time…With the win, Temple improves to 5-5 all-time against Navy. The Owls and Midshipmen do not play each other any of the next three years…The Owls finish October undefeated at 5-0. The last time they accomplished that feat was 1979, the year they won the Garden State Bowl.
Jennifer Reardon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.