The emotion of Senior Day didn't hit Temple — until the second half. After sleepwalking through a 17-0 first half deficit, Temple enjoyed its biggest comeback of the season, and at least for the moment, kept its slim hopes of winning the American Athletic Conference Eastern Division alive with Saturday's stunning 27-17 comeback win at Lincoln Financial Field.
Temple (7-4, 6-1) entered the game needing to beat USF, and UConn on Nov. 24, and have undefeated and No. 11 Central Florida lose its final two games to Cincinnati and USF in order to win the East Division.
The division hopes died when UCF beat Cincinnati, 38-13 on a game that ended late Saturday night.
USF (7-4 3-4) lost its fourth consecutive game.
"We came out there and were kind of feeling our way through, trying to kind of figure out what kind of game it was going to be, that's not our brand of football," Temple coach Geoff Collins, who honored the 19 seniors before the game.
The Owls finally got things figured out with Isaiah Wright's go-ahead 73-yard punt return that gave Temple a 20-17 lead with just over 10 minutes left in the game. It was Wright's second punt return for a touchdown this season, and Temple's 10th non-offensive touchdown.
"I caught, ball, faked as if I was going to the right, got inside, and then got outside to the left side," said Wright, who got a key block from Ty Mason inside the 20.
Earlier in the game, Wright lost a fumble on a punt, but that was the furthest thing on his mind.
"It is not more meaningful (because of the earlier fumble)," Wright said. "It feels good because I helped my team to finish out the game.."
The Owls took command of the game in the second half, thanks to five second-half turnovers and Chappelle Russell recovered a fumble in the end zone with under 2 minutes to play to complete their biggest comeback of the season.
Despite the halftime deficit, the Temple underclassmen were motivated to have a better showing for their seniors.
"That is one of the things we said at halftime, we wanted to play for the seniors," said redshirt sophomore defensive end Quincy Roche, who had nine tackles, including two for loss and a sack and one of Temple's three fumble recoveries. "The seniors did give a lot to this program, and the least we could do is play as hard as we could for those guys."
One of those Temple seniors is running back Ryquell Armstead.
After an early third-quarter Owls defensive stop, Armstead scored from 1-yard out to cap a 10-play drive that put the Owls on the board. Armstead rushed for 64 rushing yards on 26 carries to push his season total to 1,042.
The big play during that drive was a 21-yard completion to Ventell Bryant, who became Temple's all-time leading receiver on the play. That was his 166th career reception, passing the mark of 165 set by Zamir Cobb, whose senior season was 2003.
Temple's Delvon Randall made a leaping one-handed interception on the ensuing series, his third-straight game with a pick, giving Temple the ball on its own 33.
Following a pair of turnovers by each team, Temple inched closer on a Will Mobley 33-yard field goal to get within 17-10 with 3:59 left in the third quarter.
The Owls made it 17-13 on Mobley's 36-yard field goal with 11:44 left, before Wright's return and Russell's fumble sealed the come-from-behind victory.