ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - The New Mexico Bowl had just ended, and Temple emotion was flooding the field like a hurricane off the Atlantic.

This one was for the Owls teams of the past and for the ones in the future.

This was for their fans who believed, and their critics who didn't.

Temple can now sit at the head table with respectable programs. Anyone who disagrees has very little argument. Not after the Owls defeated Wyoming, 37-15, Saturday afternoon at University Stadium. Not after they whooped and wept and sang their alma mater at the cherry and white end of the stadium.

"This proves that this program is here," said Temple coach Steve Addazio, whose squad (9-4) finished the season with four consecutive victories. "We are a legitimate major college football program.

"We are going to keep growing and have an exciting product for our university, for our city of Philadelphia."

This victory marked the Owls' first bowl win since beating California in the Garden State Bowl in 1979.

Since then, the program was on the decline for 30 seasons before Temple played in the EagleBank Bowl two seasons ago.

Back then, the Owls lost what would have been a statement game to UCLA. And a not so favorable statement was made about the program last season when, despite going 8-4, the Owls didn't get invited to a bowl game.

At the time, the Owls were recognized for struggling in the latter part of seasons and losing to formidable foes.

Not anymore.

"Coming into college, that was my goal," said senior linebacker Tahir Whitehead (11 tackles), who was named the defensive most outstanding player of the game. "I want-ed to compete in bowl games and championships. . . . Though we missed the [Mid-American Conference Championship] this year, the bowl game was considered our championship."

With that, the Owls came in more motivated, and Wyoming (8-5) didn't have a chance.

Temple scored on seven of its eight possessions. The Owls compiled 424 total yards. Their 255 rushing yards are the second-most in the bowl game's history.

Redshirt sophomore quarterback Chris Coyer was named the offensive most outstanding player of the game. Coyer completed 8 of 12 passes for 169 yards, highlighted by a 61-yard touchdown pass to Rod Streater. The Virginia native also rushed for 71 yards in the Owls' first game since the lefthander suffered a game-ending throwing-shoulder injury against Kent State.

Bernard Pierce also stood out. The junior had 25 carries for 100 yards and 1-yard scoring runs on Temple's first two drives in what could be his last college game. Pierce, who might enter the NFL draft, had 31 yards on the Owls' opening drive.

Owls placekicker Brandon McManus' three field goals (34, 37, and 34 yards) tied a bowl-game record.

Temple's defense confused Cowboys quarterback Brett Smith, a true freshman who completed 20 of 30 passes for 127 yards and two touchdowns to go with three interceptions. One of those touchdowns - a 14-yarder to Kody Sutton - came against Temple's reserves with three seconds remaining. And his 127 passing yards are the fewest in the bowl's history. The mobile quarterback did rush for a team-high 65 yards.

"The goal going into this game was to keep him rattled and throw the cage around him, because he was a very good and explosive quarterback," Whitehead said. "We just wanted to make him one-dimensional and pass the ball. That's what we did throughout the course of the game."

In the process, Temple became the first at-large selection to win this bowl game.

Contact staff writer Keith Pompey at 215-854-2939, kpompey@phillynews.com, or @pompeysgridlock on Twitter. Read his blog, "Owls Inq," at www.philly.com/owlsinq