The parallels for longtime teammates and friends Phillip Walker and Jahad Thomas remain striking. Their careers at New Jersey's Elizabeth High and Temple have been so similar and the script will continue at noon Saturday, when the Owls (9-3) visit Navy (9-2) for the American Athletic Conference championship game.

Both Walker, the quarterback, and Thomas, the running back, began their careers competing for teams at the bottom and are finishing at or near the top.

The two were four-year varsity performers for Elizabeth, and as freshmen they went 1-9. As Minutemen sophomores they were 5-6. As juniors, they went 9-3 and lost to Piscataway in the sectional title game. As seniors, Walker and Thomas led Elizabeth to an 11-0 season. The Minutemen beat Piscataway in a championship rematch. Thomas caught a 49-yard screen pass from Walker and scored the winning touchdown with 36 seconds remaining.

Not very hard to imagine, given the last few years.

Now compare that with their time at Temple. The Owls went 2-10 in their freshman year. In their sophomore season Temple was 6-6. Then last season Temple went 10-4 and lost to Houston, 24-13, in the first-ever AAC title game.

Now the Owls are back to the championship game and Thomas and Walker hope this one mirrors their final high school title game appearance.

"It is ironic that the two situations are so similar," said Thomas, who has accounted for 1,387 all-purpose yards and has scored 18 touchdowns.

The one difference in the senior seasons in high school and college is that at Elizabeth in 2012, the Minutemen faced very little resistance until the championship game. The closest game among the first 10 was a 17-point win.

"We didn't really hit much adversity until that championship game," Walker said.

This year has been different.

It began with an upset 28-13 home loss to Army and continued with a 34-27 defeat at Memphis that left the Owls 3-3 and with no margin for error. They have won six consecutive games.

"This year we went through a lot of adversity and we know what it takes to win," Walker said.

The two have even talked about the similar situations leading up to this week, although now is not the time for too much reflection.

"We both have said how amazing it is to have gone almost the same path," Thomas said.

Unlike high school, this won't be their final game together, win or lose. The Owls will be heading to a bowl game, the first time in school history they will compete in bowls in consecutive years.

Still, this is their version of a state championship, and Walker and Thomas will do their best to finish their college careers in the same fashion as they did high school. Both say the euphoria from winning the high school championship never dulls.

They also know the other side, suffering championship game losses at both levels as juniors.

"We know what it feels like to come in the locker room sad," said Walker, who was in a walking boot earlier this week with a foot injury but insists he will play, something coach Matt Rhule confirmed Friday. "We really don't want that feeling."

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