ANNAPOLIS, Md. - In typical Temple fashion, the Owls never gave up, but they dug themselves into a crater-sized hole that proved to be insurmountable.
After trailing by as many as 24 points in the first half, No. 23 Temple suffered a 34-26 loss to Wake Forest on Tuesday in the Military Bowl at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
Temple finished 10-4 for the second straight year, one win away from setting a school record for victories in a season.
Wake Forest (7-6) didn't look anything like the team that appeared to be limping into a bowl on a three-game losing streak. The Demon Deacons seemed to stun the Owls with their fast-paced offense in the first half and their physical play on both sides of the ball.
Temple had to deal with the departure of coach Matt Rhule, who took the Baylor job a few days after the Owls beat Navy at this same stadium Dec. 3 to win the American Athletic Conference title.
And while several defensive coaches are leaving with Rhule but coached in the game, the bottom line is that Temple might have been a tad overconfident, sort of like last year when the Owls were beaten, 32-17, by Toledo in the Boca Raton Bowl.
"In the first half, we just didn't come to fight," said defensive tackle Averee Robinson, who had a team-high nine tackles.
A team that prides itself on its physical play was soundly beaten on both lines of scrimmage in the first half. "They came out physical, and as a defensive line, I don't think we expected that," Robinson said.
During Temple's seven-game win streak heading into the bowl, the Owls averaged 235.4 yards rushing. In this game, Temple rushed for minus-20 yards, with quarterback Phillip Walker finishing with minus-54 yards, courtesy of four sacks.
Walker injured his right ring finger in the first quarter but continued to play. He completed 28 of 49 passes for 396 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.
"I think my finger is broke, but I played through it," Walker said.
Temple had scored 19 unanswered points before Mike Weaver's 30-yard field goal extended Wake Forest's lead to 34-26 with 1 minute, 59 seconds left.
Owls freshman Isaiah Wright then returned the kickoff 47 yards to the Temple 47. The Owls comeback chance ended when the Owls weren't able to get a first down.
On third-and-1 from the Wake Forest 44, Temple's Jahad Thomas was thrown for a 2-yard loss. Then on fourth-and-3, Walker's pass sailed far away from Adonis Jennings, the intended receiver, in a communication mix-up.
"I was expecting to throw a fade and he ran a hitch, so it was a badly executed play by me and Adonis," Walker said.
The two had many well-executed ones. Jennings caught seven passes for 154 yards and two touchdowns.
Jennings scored on a 48-yard reception on Temple's first offensive play of the game following a Sean Chandler interception. He also scored a 58-yard catch-and-run touchdown on the first third-quarter possession to get the Owls within 31-17.
In between those two scores, Temple surrendered 31 unanswered points. The first touchdown was a 41-yard reception by tight end Cam Serigne, who was 10 yards behind any Temple defender in yet another mix-up.
The second TD came on a 20-yard wide receiver screen to Tabari Hines. The Demon Deacons also got an 11-yard touchdown run by Cade Carney, a 25-yard field goal by Weaver and a 3-yard Matt Colburn run.
Temple's Aaron Boumerhi stopped the bleeding with the first of his four field goals, a 45-yarder with four seconds remaining that left the Owls trailing by 31-10 at the half.
The series after Jennings' touchdown reception in the third quarter, Wake Forest quarterback John Wolford, after being tackled by Derrek Thomas, suffered a neck strain that knocked him out of the game. He was replaced by redshirt freshman Kyle Kearns.
The Demon Deacons seemed to be holding on while the Owls came charging. "It wasn't always pretty, but we found a way to win," Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson said.
Temple, which fell short with new coach Geoff Collins watching, must pick up the pieces.
"It pains me right now like I cannot describe because I know once it settles in it will only get worse," said interim head coach Ed Foley. "It is really disappointing to me, knowing how close we came in this game."