MEMPHIS, Tenn - In the first half, Temple was dominating on defense and efficient on offense and special teams.
The second half saw the defense and special teams crumble while the offense staged a too-large surge during a 34-27 loss to Memphis in an American Athletic Conference game at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium on Thursday night.
"If you miss two field goals, have a kick returned for a touchdown and a pick returned for a touchdown it is hard to win," Temple coach Matt Rhule said.
All that happened and much more to the Owls, who are now 3-3 overall and 1-1 in the AAC, while Memphis improved to 4-1, 1-0.
Forced to play catch-up Temple's Phillip Walker ended up completing 36 of 59 passes for 445 yards, all career highs. He also threw two touchdowns and two interceptions.
Trailing by 13-0, Memphis scored on the final play of the half on a 19-yard field goal by Jake Elliot. The play before, Temple's Artrel Foster made a touchdown-saving tackle on Sam Craft, tackling him on the Owls' 2-yard line with four seconds left in the half.
Still, the Tigers were just warming up for a run of 27 unanswered points.
After rushing for just 16 yards on 10 first-half carries, the Tigers made some critical plays on the ground in the second half, aided several times by a series of Temple missed tackles.
"We had the lead at halftime and had a chance to put the team away, but there were too many penalties," Rhule said. "...The issue in first half besides the penalties, was being 1 for 8 on third down."
For the game, Temple was penalized 7 times for 61 yards, compared to three penalties for 25 yards by Memphis.
Memphis cut the lead to 13-6 on Jake Elliot's second field goal, from 43 yards with 5 minutes, 15 seconds left in the third quarter.
The big play in the drive was a 16-yard reception to the Temple 29-yard line by Phil Mayhue, the Winslow Township graduate, who had six receptions for 84 yards.
The Tigers tied the score on Doroland Dorceus 71 yards run with 2:08 left in the third quarter. On the play, Temple missed several tackles.
Less than a minute later, the Tigers took a 20-13 lead when Temple receiver Brodrick Yancy, after being popped by Shareef White, bobbled a pass that was intercepted by linebacker Genard Avery and returned 23 yards for a touchdown.
It was the second straight week that Temple has thrown a pick-six.
Temple drove deep on its next possession but Austin Jones missed a 26-yard field goal attempt with 10:42 left.
The Tigers increased the led to 27-13 on Darrell Henderson's 28-yard run with 8:14 left Temple then answered when Walker stepped up in the pocket and hit running back Jahad Thomas on a 61-yard score to cut the lead to 27-20 with 6:48 left.
Then on the ensuing kickoff, Memphis ended a two-decade drought when Tony Pollard scored on a 95-yard kick return, making it 34-20.
The Tigers had gone 233 games without a kickoff return for a score, generally considered the longest in Football Bowl Subdivision. The last kickoff return for a touchdown for Memphis came Nov. 9, 1996 when Kevin Cobb returned also a 95-yarder against Tennessee.
In addition, placekicker Jones was hurt on the play.
Temple didn't quit and got to within 34-27 on Thomas' 9-yard touchdown reception with 3:49 left. Freshman Aaron Boumehi kicked the PAT in Jones' absence.
After holding Memphis the next series, the Owls gave the Tigers the ball back on a running-into-the-kicker penalty by Praise Martin Oguike with 3:08 left.
Temple had one final chance, taking over on its own 20-yard line with 50 seconds remaining.
"At that point I thought we would get in position to score but unfortunately, we came up short," Walker said.
The Owls got two first downs, down to the Memphis 46, before Chauncey Lanier intercepted a pass with 18 seconds left to end matters.
Temple received a huge game from defensive end Haason Reddick, who had five tackles for loss, including two sacks. He had 11 total tackles and increased his AAC-leading tackle for loss total to 12.
"I tried to play as hard as I could and make the plays I could that came my way and help the team out," Reddick said.
Temple owned a 13-0 lead on two Jones field goals and a Ryquell Armstead's 2-yard run with 2:15 seconds left in the first half.
Armstead received a great lead block from fullback Nick Sharga in scoring his seventh touchdown of the season.
That completed a 12-play, 80-yard drive that took 7:23.
The key play was a 10-yard completion on a fourth-and-3 play from Walker to Colin Thompson that put the ball on the Memphis 25-yard line.
After that score, the momentum swung to Memphis.