- 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 consisting of five players over 300 pounds — could thrive against his undersized team.

He was right.

Freshman running back Bernard Pierce had a field day, with 29 carries for 267 yards and two touchdowns as the Owls avenged last year’s collapse at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium with a 27-24 win over Navy.

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 saw its winning streaked was snapped at five games with a trip to South Bend, Ind., to face rival Notre Dame looming next week.

Pierce put on a physical display. His two touchdown runs were 68 yards and 41 yards, the latter putting the Owls ahead for good with 2:41 left in the game.

Navy inserted quarterback Ricky Dobbs, who is resting a knee injury and didn’t start, on its final possession to try to spark a comeback. But after picking up one first down, he threw three straight incomplete passes and was sacked on fourth down, ending Navy’s hopes.

Temple’s massive defensive line, starring defensive tackles Andre Neblett (6-foot-2, 300) and Muhammad Wilkerson (6-5, 300), controlled the line of scrimmage for most of the first half — the Navy offense was held out of the end zone in the first half for the first time all season.

But sporting a 17-10 lead, the Owls gave Proctor and Co. a couple of breaks in the third quarter.

On what looked like would be a three-and-out on Navy’s first drive of the second half, Owls punt returner Delano Green called for a fair catch, but dropped the punt when he was run into by teammate Anthony Ferla. Craig Schaefer fell on the ball for the Mids, and Vince Murray scored from five yards out five plays later.

On the fifth play of Temple’s ensuing drive, quarterback Vaughn Charlton overthrew his intended target — right into the hands of Navy safety Wyatt Middleton. Twelve plays and 51 yards later, Proctor was in the end zone on a naked bootleg and Navy had its first lead since it was 3-0.

It didn’t matter.

Dobbs, held out of the starting lineup while he is resting a knee injury, made a second-quarter cameo on a fourth-and-one play from the Temple 32-yard line. But the Owls massive defensive front blew the play up, and Dobbs was stuffed for no gain.

Two plays later, Pierce struck, showing off a complete skillset on a 68-yard touchdown run. 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 Navy safety Emmet 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.

A wild sequence late in the second quarter added some excitement to what had been up until that point a relatively mundane first half except for Pierce’s run.

First Temple safety Jaiquawn Jarrett intercepted Kriss Proctor at the Temple 1-yard line. But the Navy defense held firm and forced a punt. That’s when the craziness ensued. A low snap squirted through Owls punter Jeff Wathne’s legs. He retreated into the end zone, spun and kicked it out — but only to the 12-yard line.

Jarred Shannon tried to catch and run with it for Navy, but he bobbled the ball and was hit before he could corral it. But David Wright was there for the Mids, scooped up the ball and carried it in from three yards out for a touchdown.

The chaotic play was Navy’s first punt return for a touchdown since 1996, snapping an NCAA-long 160-game drought.

But Temple wasted no time retaking the lead. On the ensuing kickoff, James Nixon raced 100 yards for a touchdown to put the Owls back ahead 14-10. And that’s how the first half would end.

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