Temple cruises past Navy 34-10 to capture AAC championship
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) Soon after coach Matt Rhule received the obligatory drenching on the sideline, confetti rained down on the Temple football team and the players jumped with excitement during a celebration that was nearly five decades in the making.
For the first time since 1967, the Owls are league champions.
Phillip Walker threw two touchdown passes, Temple's defense stuffed Navy's running game and the Owls claimed their first American Athletic Conference title with a 34-10 victory Saturday.
After Temple (10-3) scored touchdowns on its first three possessions, protecting the 21-0 lead became substantially easier when No. 20 Navy (9-3, No. 19 CFP) lost standout quarterback Will Worth to a second-quarter ankle injury.
Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said Worth is done for the season, along with running backs Toneo Gulley and Darryl Bonner, both of whom left with first-half injuries.
Although the defeat took Navy out of the running for the Cotton Bowl, the Midshipmen are expected to play in the Armed Forces Bowl after facing Army next Saturday.
The Owls extended their winning streak to seven and earned their first league title since finishing atop the Middle American Conference some 49 seasons ago.
''If it means one thing, it means a promise has been fulfilled,'' said Rhule, who vowed to build a winner at Temple despite going 2-10 in 2013, his first season. ''The true thing for me about this is just to have these players to be able to call themselves champions. When you win this conference, you've done something special.''
Temple lost to Houston in last year's AAC Championship game. This time, the Owls dominated from the outset.
''It showed we have a really good team that is capable of doing a lot of good things,'' said Walker, who went 16 for 25 for 199 yards.
Not only did Temple open with TD drives of 75, 59 and 70 yards, but the defense quashed a Navy attack that was averaging 61 points over its previous three games.
''They just played better. It wasn't a magic wand,'' Niumatalolo said. ''They just hit us in the mouth and we hadn't been hit in the mouth for a long time. Normally, we hit other people in the mouth. To Temple's credit, they hit us in the mouth. We were dazed the whole game. It's like they hit us with an overhand right.''
The Midshipmen had scored on 34 of 38 drives - including 33 touchdowns - before being denied on their first three possessions by Temple. Worth was injured at the end of the third drive and did not return.
That spelled doom for an offense that produced more than 500 yards in each of its last three games. Navy finished with 306 yards, 168 on the ground.
Backup quarterback Zach Abey went 7 for 13 for 104 yards and two interceptions.
''I missed some reads, wish I had some plays back,'' he said.
The result was the end of Navy's 15-game home winning streak.
Middle linebacker Jarred Alwan led the Owls defense with 13 tackles, and Sean Chandler contributed eight tackles and forced a fumble.
Temple took the suspense out of the game with an early show of offensive firepower. After Walker completed a 13-yard pass for Keith Kirkwood on fourth-and-7 from the Navy 28, Jahad Thomas ran for a 15-yard score.
A 22-yard touchdown pass to Ventell Bryant made it 14-0, and Walker followed a Navy turnover with a perfectly thrown long pass that Kirkwood caught in stride for a 56-yard score.
The injury to Worth occurred on Navy's next possession.
WHAT ABOUT US?
Rhule believes the Owls should be considered for a major bowl, even though unbeaten Western Michigan is positioned to be the highest-ranked team from the Group of Five conferences when the committee releases its final rankings Sunday.
''We've beaten two Top 25 teams this year,'' he said. ''We should be a ranked team. We had three losses early.''
''I'm not saying anything negative about anyone else,'' Rhule stressed, ''but we should be playing on the New Year's Day Six bowl.''
Temple: The Owls played exceptionally well in proving to be a worthy conference champion. Even before the injuries to Navy's backfield, Temple's defense successfully tackled the challenge of slowing down Navy's formidable offense.
Navy: The Midshipmen had it all going for them: Momentum on offense, home-field advantage and the incentive of playing in the Cotton Bowl. But Navy wasn't sharp enough to put a dent in a Temple defense that had allowed a total of 10 points in its previous three games.
Temple: The Owls expect to learn their bowl destination on Sunday.
Navy: The annual Army-Navy game will be held in Baltimore on Saturday. The Midshipmen will be looking for their 15th straight win in the series.
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