The Wake Forest Demon Deacons survived a late rally by the #24 Temple Owls but hung on to beat them 34-26 to win the Military Bowl.
Wake Forest Stalls:
The Demon Deacons entered halftime with a 31-10 lead. At one point in the first half, Wake Forest led by 24 points. The Demon Deacons had 262 offensive yards to the Owls 135 through the first half.
After halftime, however, Wake Forest lost its momentum. During their first drive of the second half, Demon Deacons quarterback John Wolford sustained a neck strain.
“[My neck is] good,” Wolford said. “I landed funny and wanted to go back in, but they said I couldn’t.”
Wolford did not return to the game. He threw for 183 yards, two touchdowns and one interception during his time on the field. Kyle Kearns replaced Wolford and had 60 passing yards with one interception.
“That feeling of getting out there in a bowl game is an unreal feeling,” Kearns said. “I was ready for the opportunity. … This team has so much potential to be great.”
Temple’s Comeback Attempt:
From Wolford’s injury on, Temple outscored Wake Forest 16-3 and threw for 138 more yards than the Demon Deacons.
The Owls offense relied on quarterback Phillip Walker to attempt the comeback, as the rushing game never clicked. Temple had -20 rushing yards rushing on the night.
“That running game is our bread-and-butter, to be honest with you,” Walker said. “If we can’t run the ball, it’s going to be hard to open up things in the passing game, but the receivers did a good job getting open.”
Walker countered this lack of production with 396 passing yards paired with two touchdowns and one interception.
“We don’t lose hope,” Walker said. “We just keep playing[, and] we aren’t going to stop playing until the clock hits zero.”
Walker played the entire game despite dislocating his ring finger on his throwing hand.
“[Walker] put [his finger] back in place himself, taped it up, went back in to play,” Owls interim head coach Ed Foley said. “I could sit here for five hours and talk about our guys, what they’ve left behind and what they’ve overcome.”
Temple eventually reduced Wake Forest’s lead to eight. The Owls had the chance to tie the game with five minutes remaining at the Demon Deacons’ six-yard line. However, the drive stalled when Wake Forest defensive end Duke Ejiofor sacked Walker for a 22-yard loss. Temple settled for a field goal to bring the score to 31-26.
Demon Deacons Seal the Victory:
On the ensuing kickoff, Demon Deacon John Armstrong returned the ball 80 yards to the Owls’ 15-yard line.
“It just opened up like the gates of heaven, and I just hit it and got going,” Armstrong said.
Wake Forest capitalized on the opportunity by hitting a 30-yard field goal to return their lead to eight with 1:59 left to play.
Temple turned the ball over on downs on their next drive, sealing the Demon Deacons’ first bowl win since 2011 and first winning season since 2008.
“You don’t know if that’s going to be your last football game or not,” Walker, a senior, said.
After defensive back Sean Chandler intercepted Wolford, the Owls scored on their first offensive play of the game. Walker’s 48-yard touchdown pass to Adonis Jennings and the extra point put Temple ahead 7-0.
Jennings also had a 58-yard reception and two touchdowns as part of his 154 receiving yards in the game.
Fellow wide receiver Ventell Bryant added 151 yards on 11 catches for the Owls.
The Demon Deacons recovered with their own deep ball later in the first quarter. Wolford hit tight end Cam Serigne for a 41-yard touchdown pass to tie the game.
Those seven points were the first of Wake Forest’s 31-0 run.
“We were confident,” Wolford said. “We knew Temple was a great team, but we’ve played great teams before.”
The game was atypical for both teams. Temple’s defense allows the third-fewest yards in the nation, yet it allowed Wake forest, the 125th ranked team in total offense, to amass 368 yards.
The Owls’ -20 rushing yards were the least they’ve ever had in a bowl game. However, Walker’s 396 passing yards were the most an Owl has had in a bowl game.
How They Stand:
Wake Forest improved to 7-6 on the year. The win raised its record in bowl games to 7-4.
The Demon deacons are now 2-0 in the Military Bowl. They beat Navy 29-19 in 2008 in their other appearance in the game.
The American Athletic Conference Champion Temple fell to 10-4. The Owls are now 2-4 in bowl play.
Temple is 0-2 in the Military Bowl. They lost 30-21 to UCLA in their other appearance in the game in 2009 when it was still known as the Eaglebank Bowl.
A Look Ahead:
Geoff Collins will take over as Temple’s head coach after the bowl game. Former Owls head coach Matt Rhule left the team after the AAC Championship to take Baylor University’s head coaching job.