Temple's 2-3 record during a brutal month of September wasn't totally unexpected. But for 2 1/2 of those losses, the Owls didn't show much of a pulse.
On a picture-perfect Saturday afternoon, Temple finally put together a competitive half against a quality team, albeit 30 minutes late.
Trailing by 20 points early in the third quarter, the Owls' foundering offense showed some life. But it wasn't enough for a comeback win, and the Owls lost to Houston, 20-13, in an American Athletic Conference game before 24,024 at Lincoln Financial Field.
"That team that played in the second half was really, really good," Temple coach Geoff Collins.
And the one that played the first half and the first series in the third quarter wasn't so good.
Houston took a 20-0 lead on Linell Bonner's 9-yard touchdown reception on the opening drive of the third quarter, completing a nine-play, 85-yard drive.
After that, the Temple offense settled in.
The offense scored on its next three possessions.
"That is the offense we want to be and that is the offense we are going to be," quarterback Logan Marchi said of the second half.
The difference was the running game, which had been stagnant most of the year.
Temple rushed for minus-8 yards in the first half and 150 in the second.
The Owls finally scored on Aaron Boumerhi's 41-yard field goal with 8 minutes, 56 seconds left in the third quarter. It was the offense's first points in 99:52.
Temple made it 20-10 when Marchi, on an option play, pitched a 1-yard pass to David Hood on the first play of the fourth quarter.
The Owls closed to 20-13 with 8:47 left on a Boumerhi 29-yard field goal. Temple got a break on the drive when, two plays earlier, Houston's Garrett Davis dropped an interception in the end zone.
The Owls would get one more chance, with the ball on their own 9-yard line and 30 seconds left. After two completed passes to the 34, the game ended when Davis intercepted a Hail Mary pass as time expired.
Marchi completed 20 of 41 passes for 182 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions.
Houston (3-1, 1-0) struck first when D'Eriq King scored on a 13-yard run with 4:18 left in the first quarter. That capped an eight-play, 80-yard drive and came one play after a pass-interference call on Temple's Mike Jones in the end zone on an apparent interception. The Temple side said there was minimal contact, and coach Geoff Collins let the officials know about it after the score.
"I don't think it was interference," said Jones, who had six tackles. "We were both battling and I don't think I pulled or tugged … "
With just 14 seconds left in the first quarter, Temple linebacker Shaun Bradley was ejected for targeting on an incomplete pass to Bonner. Bonner dropped a pass, and Bradley continued to follow through with his hit. Targeting doesn't have to be a helmet-to-helmet hit, and didn't appear to be. It appeared Bradley hit Bonner near his head with his shoulder. The officials saw it differently.
"They said from their view it was helmet-to-helmet," Collins said.
A request to the AAC to have a pool reporter talk to the officials was denied and Bradley also wasn't available.
Bonner, when asked, said he had to see the tape to see if it was helmet-to-helmet, but he had an interesting take on it when asked if the hit hurt.
"No," he said. "We talked about it after the play. Me and 23 [Bradley], and I told him, 'Good hit.' "
Will Kwenkeu replaced Bradley and ended with a team-high eight tackles.
"That one and probably some other ones that were interesting," Collins said, biting his tongue when discussing the officiating.
Another call he was likely referring to came in the second quarter when Keith Kirkwood's 30-yard reception, that would have given the Owls a first down on the Houston 6, was overruled. It appeared Kirkwood was in bounds.
Still, Houston also had to overcome adversity, especially when All-American defensive tackle Ed Oliver left the game for good in the first quarter with an unspecified injury.
Second quarter field goals of 25 and 35 yards by Caden Novikoff extended Houston's lead to 13-0 and, after the advantage swelled to 20-0, Temple became a different team — but not one quite good enough to change the outcome.