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Temple cruises past Navy 34-10 to capture AAC championship

Temple head coach Matt Rhule poses with the trophy after after his Owls defeated Navy 34-10 in the American Athletic Conference championship NCAA college football game, Saturday, Dec. 3, 2016, in Annapolis, Md. (Nick Wass / Associated Press)
Temple head coach Matt Rhule poses with the trophy after after his Owls defeated Navy 34-10 in the American Athletic Conference championship NCAA college football game, Saturday, Dec. 3, 2016, in Annapolis, Md. (Nick Wass / Associated Press)
Associated Press

ANNAPOLIS, Md. – Soon after coach Matt Rhule received the obligatory drenching on the sideline, confetti rained down on the Temple football team and the players jumped with excitement during a celebration that was nearly five decades in the making.

For the first time since 1967, the Owls are league champions.

Phillip Walker threw two touchdown passes, Temple’s defense stuffed Navy’s running game and the Owls claimed their first American Athletic Conference title with a 34-10 victory Saturday.

After Temple (10-3) scored touchdowns on its first three possessions, protecting the 21-0 lead became substantially easier when No. 20 Navy (9-3, No. 19 CFP) lost standout quarterback Will Worth to a second-quarter ankle injury.

Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said Worth is done for the season, along with running backs Toneo Gulley and Darryl Bonner, both of whom left with first-half injuries.

Although the defeat took Navy out of the running for the Cotton Bowl, the Midshipmen are expected to play in the Armed Forces Bowl after facing Army next Saturday.

The Owls extended their winning streak to seven and earned their first league title since finishing atop the Middle American Conference 49 seasons ago.

“If it means one thing, it means a promise has been fulfilled,” said Rhule, who vowed to build a winner at Temple despite going 2-10 in 2013, his first season. “The true thing for me about this is just to have these players to be able to call themselves champions. When you win this conference, you’ve done something special.”

Temple lost to Houston in last year’s AAC Championship game. This time, the Owls dominated from the outset.

“It showed we have a really good team that is capable of doing a lot of good things,” said Walker, who went 16 for 25 for 199 yards.

Not only did Temple open with TD drives of 75, 59 and 70 yards, but the defense quashed a Navy attack that was averaging 61 points over its previous three games.

“They just played better. It wasn’t a magic wand,” Niumatalolo said. “They just hit us in the mouth and we hadn’t been hit in the mouth for a long time. Normally, we hit other people in the mouth. To Temple’s credit, they hit us in the mouth. We were dazed the whole game. It’s like they hit us with an overhand right.”

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