Temple senior Eric Hamilton's initial reaction to the Owls football team's 11-point loss Saturday to Houston in the championship game for the American Athletic Conference could be summed up in a single word: "heartbreaking."

But Hamilton and other Temple students who turned out for a campus viewing party in the Mitchell and Hilarie Morgan Residence Hall and Dining Complex said that although the game's 24-13 outcome was bittersweet, it could not erase Temple's amazing football season.

"I still think this season has been incredible for the school," said Hamilton, a finance and accounting major from Downingtown. "We've got admissions skyrocketing."

Temple's football run and its first conference title game in decades grabbed the attention of students, staff, parents, alumni - and even prospective students.

Lindsey Casella, a senior from Jackson, N.J., who stopped by the campus party, said a group of high school students and parents she had led on a campus tour Saturday morning talked about the team and were excited about the game.

"This really reminds me a lot of when I was in my freshman year and the basketball team was in March Madness," said Casella, an advertising major.

Hundreds of those who could not make the journey of more than 1,300 miles to Houston to attend the game flocked to the Piazza in Northern Liberties to watch on the big outdoor screen.

Temple Student Government, Student Activities, and Temple Athletics threw the on-campus alternative with popcorn and pizza in the high-rise at Broad Street and Cecil B. Moore Avenue.

That low-key affair drew students dressed in Temple cherry and white who watched the game on two large screens. There were whoops and applause when Temple made gains and grimaces and groans when the Owls did not complete passes and when Houston scored touchdowns.

The crowd, which topped at around 50, shrunk to half that by the end of the second quarter.

"I can't take any more pain!" one student said as he stomped out with less than two minutes left in the game.

But Hannah Mullen, a sophomore from Walpole, Mass., was one of the diehards who stayed until the end.

"You've got to see it through - win or lose," said Mullen, a New England Patriots fan.

"It was an exciting game, and that's what matters to me," she said. "I know how much they've improved since last year. Last year, they wouldn't even have made it to this game."

Hamilton was also philosophical.

"We put up a good fight, but the motto has always been, 'What's next for Temple football,' " he said. "So what's next is looking forward to a bowl game and going into the off-season and getting ready for the next year with Coach Rhule. . . . I'm looking forward to watching it as an alumni."

215-854-2789 @marwooda