When Navy quarterback Ricky Dobbs stepped onto the field with slightly more than two minutes to play and his team facing a three-point deficit against Temple, the fans inside Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium cheered. For as poorly as the Midshipmen had played Saturday afternoon, they still had a chance and they now had the quarterback who led an improbable fourth-quarter comeback against the Owls on this same field almost a year ago to the day.
But Dobbs, who did not start and was intended to be the emergency quarterback because of an injured right knee, couldn't spark a stagnant offense with his arm. Navy's final offensive snap ended with Dobbs being sacked and Temple, behind a huge performance by freshman running back Bernard Pierce, held on for a 27-24 victory before an announced crowd of 28,305.
"We've had some great team wins here recently," Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said. "That was a great team loss. There's blame to go all the way around, and it all starts with me. I did a horrible job of coaching the team today and getting our team ready."
Both Navy (6-3) and Temple (6-2) started the day with five-game winning streaks and a chance to become bowl-eligible with a victory. The Owls were the ones who got to celebrate; they now have their most victories since 1990, the opportunity to play in their first bowl game since 1979, and their longest winning streak since 1974. Temple also ended a four-game losing streak to the Midshipmen.
"If you're in the hunt in November, then every game is important," said Temple coach Al Golden, whose team is 8-3 since losing to Navy, 33-27, in overtime Nov. 1, 2008. "Our goal wasn't to win six games. Our goal is bigger than that, and we are going just one rung at a time."
Pierce gained more yards on the ground than the entire Navy team, 267 yards to 227; it was the first time the Midshipmen gave up more than 200 yards to a single player since Notre Dame's Julius Jones ran for 221 yards in 2003. Pierce became the first Temple player to put together back-to-back 200-yard games. He had 212 last week against Toledo.
Pierce's 41-yard touchdown run with 2 minutes, 41 seconds remaining provided the winning points for Temple, but his earlier score - a 68-yard dash down the left sideline - was more emblematic of the way he dominated Navy. On that play, safety Emmett Merchant (5 feet 9, 186 pounds) and linebacker Ram Vela (5-9, 193) had a chance to knock Pierce (6-0, 210) out of bounds, but he brushed them off.
"I think that was the story of the night, just missing too many tackles," senior linebacker Ross Pospisil said. "He did a great job of finding holes, and their offensive line does a good job of putting body on body. ... I don't think you find that combination of strength and vision in many backs. He put them together perfectly."
Navy also struggled on offense and special teams. The Midshipmen scored on a 3-yard punt return by David Wright late in the second quarter, only to immediately give up a 100-yard kickoff return to Temple's James Nixon. Fullback Vince Murray had his third straight 100-yard rushing game, but sophomore Kriss Proctor - who was making his second straight start for Dobbs - threw a costly interception in the first half.
For the first time this season, the Midshipmen didn't score an offensive touchdown in the opening half, and both of their second-half touchdowns came on short fields after Temple turnovers. The Midshipmen were 7-for-17 on third downs and 1-for-3 on fourth downs.
"That's normally our cup of tea, our forte, third-and-short, fourth-and-short," Niumatalolo said. "We're very good on third-down conversions. ... We didn't execute. It wasn't so much what they were doing; they just beat our guys up front."
One of those missed fourth-and-short opportunities was the turning point of the game, according to Niumatalolo. Navy held a 3-0 lead early in the second quarter and was driving; on fourth-and-1 from the Temple 32, Niumatalolo decided to go for it and replaced Proctor with Dobbs, who is stronger and more physical. Dobbs was stopped for no gain. Two plays later, Pierce broke free for his first touchdown run.
0 14 3 10-27
3 7 7 7-24
First quarter Navy-FG Buckley 30, 3:11. Second quarter Tem-Pierce 68 run (McManus kick), 11:11. Navy-D.Wright 3 punt return (Buckley kick), 1:55. Tem-Nixon 100 kickoff return (McManus kick), 1:41. Third quarter Tem-FG McManus 45, 12:08. Navy-Murray 5 run (Buckley kick), 7:54. Fourth quarter Navy-Proctor 2 run (Buckley kick), 14:55. Tem-FG McManus 21, 12:02. Tem-Pierce 41 run (McManus kick), 2:41. A-28,305.
First downs 15 14
Rushes-Yards 34-274 62-227
Passing 37 27
Cmp.-Att.-Int. 5-17-2 2-7-1
Return Yards 0 24
Punts-Avg. 4-28.0 6-39.8
Fumbles-Lost 2-1 1-0
Penalties-Yds. 7-60 2-20
Time of poss. 24:36 35:24
Rushing-Temple, Pierce 29-267, Mat.Brown 2-13, Team 3-(minus 6). Navy, Murray 33-115, Proctor 16-52, Greene 5-19, G.Jones 1-16, Doyle 1-9, Finnerty 1-7, Dobbs 3-5, Teich 2-4. Passing-Temple, Charlton 5-17-2-37. Navy, Proctor 2-4-1-27, Dobbs 0-3-0-0. Receiving-Temple, Campbell 2-24, Harper 1-12, Nixon 1-5, Pierce 1-(minus 4). Navy, Washington 1-31, Finnerty 1-(minus 4).
Saturday, 2:30 p.m.
TV: Chs. 11, 4
Radio: 1090 AM, 1430 AM