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Temple romps to earn spot in AAC title game

A season that began with an upset home loss to Army and a .500 record after six games will continue with a second straight league championship game appearance for Temple.

A season that began with an upset home loss to Army and a .500 record after six games will continue with a second straight league championship game appearance for Temple.

After surrendering a touchdown on the opening possession, Temple's defense went into shut-down mode and the offense got into gear after a slow start in a 37-10 win over East Carolina before 28,373 on Saturday night at Lincoln Financial Field.

The win earned Temple the East Division championship and a berth in the American Athletic Conference title game at noon Saturday at West Division champion Navy.

The Owls (9-3, 7-1 AAC) have won six in a row.

Navy (9-2, 7-1) clinched the home field for the championship game by routing Southern Methodist, 75-31, on Saturday.

Fittingly, a team that made so many early-season mistakes didn't commit a single penalty.

"It feels great," quarterback Phillip Walker said. "Nobody believed we would win a championship at the beginning of the year."

The Owls were picked second in the preseason poll, behind South Florida, a team they beat, 46-30.

After a 34-27 loss at Memphis that left the Owls 3-3, there certainly weren't many talking about a championship.

"Being able to battle back from where we were, the early adversity and not to turn on each other and give up and get on each other ... I am really excited about that," coach Matt Rhule said.

In the first half, Walker hurt his ankle but stayed in the game.

"I played the whole game so I'm good," he said.

East Carolina (3-9, 1-7), which entered the game No. 1 in the AAC in passing offense (348.5 yards per game), ended the 11-play, 58-yard first drive with a 15-yard touchdown pass from Gardner Minshew to Jimmy Williams.

Temple came back to score on its opening drive with Adonis Jennings providing 87 yards. Jennings returned his first-ever kickoff 43 yards. He also caught a 44-yard bomb from Walker to the Pirates' 2. Two plays later, Ryquell Armstead scored on a 2-yard run after bouncing off tacklers.

Armstead, who missed last week's game with an injury, gave Temple a 14-7 lead on a 1-yard touchdown run with 2 minutes, 7 seconds left in the first half. It was his 13th rushing touchdown.

On that drive, Walker became the first Temple quarterback to throw for 10,000 yards in a career.

During the next series, Temple defensive end Praise Martin-Oguike sacked Minshew, causing a fumble that he recovered at the ECU 34.

Jahad Thomas gained 28 yards on a play that originally looked like a halfback option. He saw nobody open and took off. A personal foul on ECU put the ball on the 3-yard line and Thomas scored from there on the next play with 1:09 left, boosting the lead to 21-7.

The Owls remained in control the second half.

Temple held Zay Jones to seven receptions for 61 yards. He became the all-time leading receiver among Football Bowl Subdivision schools during the game, finishing his career with 399 catches.

Thomas finished with 152 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries. Jennings added six receptions for 100 yards after entering the game with 216 receiving yards. Walker was 12 of 20 for 158 yards, and no interceptions or touchdowns.

Temple receiver Ventell Bryant, who was banged up entering the game, left in pain after making a catch with 9:20 left in the game. Rhule didn't know immediately about the extent of the injury.

Temple ended the scoring when Jager Gardner added a 14-yard TD run with 3:33 remaining. At that point, the Owls could start making their travel plans for Annapolis.