ANNAPOLIS, Md. - A defensive play call was made, then a switch to another play. Routine stuff, except a Temple Owls defender missed the signal. It's as simple as that sometimes. From the stands, you don't know the play call or see the switch or know about the missed signal. You just watch an opposing tight end striding down the middle of the field at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium by his lonesome.
During Tuesday's Military Bowl, too many little things went wrong for Temple, creating big problems, as Wake Forest scored 31 unanswered points. A final score of 34-26 equates to Temple getting tremendous credit for not going away after falling behind 31-7, for still having a real shot in the final two minutes.
But those 31 unanswered ones ultimately decided this.
For all this season's achievements, this squad can't qualify as the greatest Owls team of all-time. You can't lose your bowl game to a school that finished 3-5 in the Atlantic Coast Conference and came in 6-6 overall and call yourself best ever.
It didn't take away from the American Athletic Conference title or the 10 wins, the 20 wins over the last two seasons. This was a special group, a historic group. It just won't get to call itself a top-25 team when the final poll votes are counted. So close to more history and just short.
"I said to the young players that are returning that you have to understand that loving each other and working hard just gives you a chance to win, but it does not guarantee that you will win," said the Owls' interim coach, Ed Foley.
All the little things that this Temple group takes pride in, not enough of them happened in that first half, Foley added. Controlling the line of scrimmage, taking care of the football. Falling behind, he saw his team get tight, "get a little bit nervous." Snapping out of it doesn't change that.
There were all sorts of first-half plays that blew up on the Owls. A big early sack was negated when a Temple defensive end drew a flag for shoving the already-down Wake QB. There was a muffed punt catch, and a tipped Phillip Walker pass that fell into the hands of a Wake defensive end.
We'll never know exactly what impact Temple's coaching change had on this Military Bowl. As tempting as it is, it's way too easy a narrative to suggest the change led directly to anything that happened here.
It's also impossible to ignore that most of the defensive staff spent much of the time since Matt Rhule became Baylor's coach away from the Temple football complex, that the head coach himself presumably was living and dying on every play watching this on television. There's no question the system is horribly flawed and the players lose because of it. And that's no knock on Foley. He's the real thing as a football coach.
Again, let's not get delusional thinking the upheaval entirely decided this. Temple could not run the football. Temple's offensive coaches were with the players the whole time. A pretty big factor here, too. The Owls lost more rushing yards than they gained, their two tailbacks combined for 36 yards on 14 carries, 23 of them on one play. For once, Temple didn't wear down a defense.
For a second there, this had looked like an easy assignment for Temple. A couple of plays in, Wake Forest's quarterback threw a ball up for grabs. An Owls safety grabbed it. First Owls offensive play, a streaking Temple receiver caught a pass in stride, 48 yards, insta-score.
It looked so easy, but the Owls soon found out they were in for a fight.
Temple eventually brought that fight to the end. Walker had injured his throwing hand early, had pushed a dislocated knuckle back into place and kept playing, as tough as they come, always.
The 2016 season ended when a fourth-down Walker pass didn't match up to the route run by a receiver. Maybe it was the play before, however, that really told the story. Into Wake Forest territory, the Owls needed one yard on third down, tried a run to get it, and ended up losing yardage. This day was like that, one step forward and two steps back, and not enough time to do anything about it.