ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - Last week, first-year Temple football coach Steve Addazio insisted that one game wouldn't define his team's season.
Nevertheless, closing impressions do tend to be, well, more lasting.
Saturday at New Mexico's University Stadium, the Owls won their first bowl game since 1979, and the second in program history. And they did so in convincing fashion, 37-15 over a Wyoming team (8-5) that had finished third in the Mountain West behind TCU and Boise State. And it really wasn't that close.
It was the Owls' (9-4) fourth consecutive win, and their first over an opponent that finished with a winning record. The last two seasons under Al Golden, they won a combined 17 times. But both years they dropped their last two.
There is a difference.
"It catapults you," Addazio said of the victory in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl. "It was really important for these seniors [13 of whom start] to go out with this win. A bowl win, a ninth win. It was our championship game.
"We had a great year, and that's terrific. But this allowed us to put that exclamation point on it. I think the way we played the game was really important, for the MAC conference, our team, our seniors and our fan base. It gives you great momentum [going into the offseason]. We're obviously grateful for that. It didn't define our season, but it put a nice exclamation point on our season . . . continuing how we played in November. Because we hadn't finished well in the past, and we knew that was one of our goals, to learn how to finish.
"It's very satisfying to see our kids enjoy this experience. That is a memory they'll have forever. That will never go away. They'll be able to take that with them. And that's what college football is all about."
Only once since 2001 had the Owls even won their last game. That was 3 years ago, when they closed with two wins to finish 5-7. The last time they won their last four was 1975, when a 5-0 finish got them to 6-5.
The ride had its speed bumps as well, as many often do. The Owls almost beat Penn State for the first time since 1941. The week after winning by 31 at Maryland, they lost by 23 at home to Toledo. They lost to Ohio for the third straight November, which again kept them from getting to the MAC title game for the first time.
They're also still looking for their first win over a MAC team that finished with a winning record. But, all but one of their wins were already over by halftime, if not the end of the opening quarter, including a 42-0 walkover at 6-6 Ball State. Three of the losses were by a combined 11 points.
Their defense, after losing some big-time talents to the NFL, was statistically one of the nation's best. The unit turned in just two subpar efforts. The only problem was they came against Toledo and Ohio. Junior Bernard Pierce rushed for nearly 1,500 yards and 27 touchdowns. Yet the three times he didn't reach triple figures all came in losses. Perhaps the best news was the Owls finally found a quarterback to operate Addazio's power/spread-option attack in Chris Coyer, a third-year sophomore who took over in Week 9 and was the Outstanding Offensive Player in the first of the holiday season's 35 postseason matchups.
They're probably going to have to venture forward without Pierce, who has filed his paperwork with the NFL for early entry into the draft. He still has time to withdraw, but several sources very familiar with the situation don't think that's going to happen. Pierce didn't make himself available for comment Saturday, after running for 100 yards and two scores on 25 carries. Junior Matt Brown, who is 7 inches shorter and 50 pounds lighter but owns a motor that never stops, ran for over 900 yards this season. Right now, though, there's really no other proven commodity at that position in the equation. And the offensive line, which despite a lack of depth for the most part performed stellarly, has to be largely retooled. So Addazio and his staff will have to come up with more answers. There's little reason to think they won't.
The quest begins anew in a little over 8 months.
"We set the foundation for the younger guys to keep winning over the next couple of years," said senior linebacker Tahir Whitehead, who earned the game's Most Outstanding Defensive award.
Added Addazio: "We had to become mentally tougher as a football team. That's all part of the progression, of building a program. First phase is kind of getting your organization together. Second phase is learning how to win. The [next] phase is learning how to stay out in front and be a team, handle success.
"There's a lot of tiers that go into [it]. One season of winning doesn't mean that you've arrived. We've experienced more of those learning curves along the way. We're still on that journey, but we're making great steps."