WASHINGTON - Vaughn Charlton said he didn't see him.

Backed up at his own 2-yard line, the Temple quarterback threw what was supposed to be a screen pass. But seemingly out of nowhere appeared UCLA linebacker Akeem Ayers, who picked off Charlton's pass and stepped into the end zone with 6 minutes, 1 second to play.

It was the go-ahead score in what turned out to be a 30-21 victory for the Bruins last evening in the EagleBank Bowl in front of 23,072 fans at RFK Stadium.

"I was trying to get pressure on the quarterback, and as soon as I took off, I slipped," said Ayers, a 6-foot-4, 252-pound sophomore. "The first thing on my mind was to scramble to my feet and get back in the play. As soon as I got up, I was in position to make a play."

UCLA, which needed Navy to defeat Army on Dec. 12 to receive the postseason berth opposite Temple, trailed, 21-10, at intermission after kicker Kai Forbath booted a 40-yard field goal as the second quarter ended.

Temple, which was making its first postseason appearance since the 1979 Owls squad won the Garden State Bowl, ended the year with a 9-4 record. The Owls, who put together a single-season school-record nine consecutive victories, finished with a winning record for the first time since 1990.

The Owls' freshman star, running back Bernard Pierce, returned from a shoulder injury yesterday and scored a touchdown, but he was hurt in the second quarter and did not return.

"We didn't make enough big plays in the second half on offense, and our defense ends up getting worn out because of it," Temple coach Al Golden said. "You have to give UCLA credit, and hopefully, our kids will glean a lot from this experience, and we'll learn, and we'll take that next step. That's what we want to do here."

Charlton, who started yesterday for the first time since Temple defeated Navy, 27-24, on Oct. 31, went 13 for 23 for 159 yards and a touchdown, with two interceptions.

Golden said yesterday that Charlton had practiced well in the last few weeks, which was why he started instead of Chester Stewart.

Charlton took the Owls on a six-play, 80-yard drive to open the game that resulted in a 7-0 lead for Temple. Wide receiver James Nixon teamed with Charlton for a 43-yard gain to the UCLA 26-yard line. Three plays later, tight end Steve Maneri caught a 26-yard TD pass.

UCLA (7-6) knotted the score at 7-7 on a one-play drive when quarterback Kevin Prince hit flanker Nelson Rosario for a 46-yard pass with six minutes left in the first quarter. Terrence Austin had set up the play with a 47-yard punt return.

Pierce, who led the Mid-American Conference in rushing with 1,308 yards despite suffering the shoulder injury against Kent State on Nov. 21 that forced him to miss the Owls' final two games, was back in uniform.

However, he left aggravating the injury. He had 53 yards on 12 carries, and caught three passes for 33 yards.

Before heading to the sideline for good, Pierce gave Temple a 14-7 lead on an 11-yard run with 3:47 to go in the second quarter that gave the freshman a school-record 16 touchdowns for the season. Pierce's tag-team partner, 5-5 Matt Brown (20 carries, 83 yards) put Temple ahead, 21-7, on a 2-yard run on the Owls' next possession.

"We talked to the team early about two goals for the bowl game, the second of which was to have a great time," UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel said. "The first goal was to find a way to win the game, and at 21-7, I didn't know if I had put enough emphasis on the first goal. We played a very fine second half against a very fine team."

See a photo slideshow from the EagleBank Bowl at http://go.philly.com/owlsphotos

Inside

Penn State juniors Navorro Bowman and Evan Royster may enter the NFL draft.

E9.

Contact staff writer Kevin Tatum at 215-854-2583 or ktatum@phillynews.com.