The last step can sometimes produce a stumble if you aren't looking down. The Temple Owls know this. They didn't tape those "1-0" signs around the football complex at 10th and Diamond every week as some gimmick. One game at a time includes the last one.

The Owls had been here before. A strong, strong collection of Temple seniors, the core of both the Owls offense and defense, ran onto  Lincoln Financial Field for a pregame ceremony.

By the time they ran off, a trophy in hand, they knew they were headed for Annapolis next Saturday, for a date with Navy in the American Athletic Conference title game. East Carolina, potential spoiler, had gone down, 37-10. A sixth straight victory to end the regular season for Temple. A 9-3 regular season. That's 19 wins in the last two regular seasons.

On the list of local 2016 sports accomplishments, let's argue that Temple's reaching the AAC title game for the second straight season after winning the AAC East is second only to Villanova's winning its NCAA hoops title. Certainly true if you're looking only at the college list. (And there ain't much of a pro list.)

On the scale of Didn't see it coming, this could even be ahead of 'Nova. Ten years ago, which would you have found more likely?

Did it help the Owls that they were in this same place last season, with must-wins at the end to secure the AAC East?

"When you need one game and you know you have to win out to get to where you want to go to, it makes you have singular focus on that game," Owls coach Matt Rhule had said during the week. "And that's all you really want, to have singular focus on each game."

The way they tried to think of it, Rhule said, "We have nothing to lose this week - we have things to gain."

Saturday night, Rhule talked about the resolve of his players this season, the journey they took, the ups and downs, "seeing them grow up before our eyes."

Did Rhule have his own doubts after losing to Army and starting out 3-3?

"I think you question - you doubt yourself,'' Rhule said. "What were we doing wrong?"

Rhule thought of coming home after losing a tough one Oct. 6 at Memphis, getting home at 4 in the morning, looking at the film a few hours later. One of his assistants, Mike Siravo, looked at that film and said, "We have a chance to be a really good football team."

They haven't lost since.

"I would not sit here and say I knew this was going to happen,'' Rhule said.

Quarterback Phillip Walker, walked off the field carrying the AAC East trophy. He walked into the news conference carrying a game ball. He'd gone over 10,000 career passing yards, the first Temple quarterback to do it.

"Our goal was still in front of us,'' Walker said of that early start, saying how being undefeated would have been nice but the title was always the goal.

"Let's go win it all,'' defensive end Jacob Martin said Saturday night as he walked into the locker room.

Navy will have Temple's full attention by morning. The Midshipmen put up 75 points at SMU on Saturday to lock up the home field for the title game. They will be favored.

But put that game down as one of college football's more intriguing matchups this season. Statistically, Temple has the AAC's top defensive outfit. In their previous five AAC wins, the Owls had outscored opponents, 76-17, after halftime. A great strength for Temple is the ability to wear teams down. If the Owls can do it against Navy, it would be an upset.

This game played out like the others. Eventually, Temple's offensive and defensive lines assumed control. Although it really happened earlier. You sort of waited for a turnover that might turn things, and Temple defensive Praise Martin-Oguike provided it, right after Temple had gone ahead by a score. Martin-Oguike stripped ECU quarterback Gardner Minshew from his blind side and grabbed the ball. Two plays later, after a nifty run by Jahad Thomas, the Owls had scored again, gaining their breathing room.

Part of this Temple success story is the program's ability to take guys who didn't have great FBS options and turn them into fine FBS players. That might be the centerpiece of Temple's resurgence. Guys who took massive steps throughout their careers, and did not stumble at the end.

@jensenoffcampus