- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 1, 2009

ANNAPOLIS | Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo expressed concern this week that Temple’s running game - behind its massive offensive line - could thrive against his undersized team.

He was right.

Freshman running back Bernard Pierce ran for 267 yards and two touchdowns Saturday as the Owls avenged last year’s late collapse at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium with a 27-24 victory over Navy.

“He had great vision. He cuts back a lot,” Navy safety Wyatt Middleton said. “The coaches put us in great position; we just didn’t make plays. That’s pretty much how the game went the whole time.”

Pierce’s touchdown runs were of 68 and 41 yards, and on each he put on a physical display.

In the second quarter, he burst through a hole on the left side into the second level of Navy’s defense. Then he deftly negotiated the sideline and cut back, making safety Emmett Merchant whiff on his tackle. Linebacker Ram Vela caught up to the play, but Pierce brushed him off with a stiff arm and raced down the sideline the rest of the way.

On his second score, Pierce started up the middle - which was clogged by a Navy blitz - then bounced outside. Eluding a few tackles in the process, Pierce outran the Navy defense to the end zone and was tackled across the goal line for the score. The 41-yard burst put the Owls ahead for good with 2:41 left.

“We had a good call I thought on that particular play,” linebacker Ross Pospisil said. “But the guy made a move to the outside, and we just missed too many tackles. I don’t think you find that combination of strength and vision in many backs. He put them together perfectly.”

The Mids (6-3) gained 227 yards on the ground but were frustrated by an inability to sustain long drives. Navy entered ninth in the country in third-down efficiency, having converted exactly half of its third downs this season.

But the Owls would not budge, behind a stalwart defensive line starring defensive tackles Andre Neblett (6-foot-2, 300) and Muhammad Wilkerson (6-5, 300). Five times Navy had third-and-3 or shorter and could not convert. Additionally, Niumatalolo inserted quarterback Ricky Dobbs, who is battling a knee injury and did not start, in the second quarter for a fourth-and-1 attempt. He was stuffed.

“They were just beating us up front. … We had third-and-2 a ton - and that’s us,” Niumatalolo said. “In our minds, we were exactly where we need to be. That’s kind of our game plan and our MO, and the last couple weeks we’ve been converting on those and keeping the sticks moving. This week we weren’t.”

The Navy offense was held without a touchdown in the first half - the first time that has happened all year. And both of its scores in the second half were Temple-aided - the first set up by a muffed punt and the second by a Middleton interception on a Vaughn Charlton overthrow.

Navy had two drives in the fourth quarter to extend its lead to two scores but punted both times. After Pierce put Temple ahead, Dobbs was inserted again since the Mids had to pass, but he threw three incompletions and was sacked on fourth down.

“I felt like we executed on first and second down - we had good plays,” starting quarterback Kriss Proctor said. “The story of the game was getting stopped on third and short. That’s really where the game was won and lost. They played us well and they stopped us.”

Temple (6-2) accomplished a major program goal by reaching bowl eligibility with its sixth consecutive win. The Owls have not played in a bowl game since 1979.

Navy’s winning streak was snapped at five games with a trip to South Bend, Ind., to face rival Notre Dame looming next week.

“We’ve got to go back to practice and work harder than we’ve ever worked,” Pospisil said. “It doesn’t matter what part of the season we’re in, we’ve got to dig deep.”

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