It wasn't looking good for the UCLA Bruins in our nation's capital yesterday.
The temperature at Washington, D.C.'s RFK Stadium was 32 degrees with a wind chill factor of 19, plus the field was frozen, making it hard for the players to get any footing.
On top of everything else, the Temple Owls, playing in their first bowl game since 1979 after having their first winning season in 19 years, were extremely motivated, rocking and rolling on the sidelines as they raced to a 21-10 lead.
In only their third bowl game ever, Bill Cosby's alma mater outplayed the Bruins in the game's first two quarters, with Owl quarterback Vaughn Charlton completing 12 out of 16 passes for 153 yards and a score.
Then the second half started.
Led by Terrance Austin's 32-yard touchdown catch on a fourth down play from Kevin Prince early in the third quarter and linebacker Akeem Ayers intercepting a fourth quarter pass at Temple's two-yard line for the winning score, UCLA overwhelmed the Owls to earn a 30-21 victory in the EagleBank Bowl in front of a small but bundled up crowd of 23,072.
After giving up 241 yards and 21 points in the first half, the Bruins defense stepped up big time in allowing a mere 41 yards the rest of the way, shutting out Temple and their two stud running backs, speedster Matt Brown, who had 83 yards on 20 carries, and standout freshman Bernard Pierce, who was knocked out of the contest with an injury just before halftime.
Being that Pierce had over 1,500 rushing yards this season and was his conference's freshman of the year, losing him hurt coach Al Golden's team and its chances.
The plays that turned the momentum around for UCLA?
Stopping Brown on 4th-and-1 from the Bruin eight-yard line in the third quarter was key, keeping the game within reach, as well as Rahim Moore's nation-leading 10th interception later that quarter to end another Owl threat.
After a shaky start in which he was like a baseball pitcher who couldn't find the strike zone, UCLA's Prince settled down quite nicely to throw for a total of 221 yards on 18-for-31 passing, with a 47-yard score to Nelson Rosario to go along with his TD to Austin.
Chane Moline made some key second half runs, ending with 113 yards, 69 of them rushing, in his last game as a Bruin.
The Bosworth twins, Kyle and Korey, also played well in their final games, as did Reggie Carter, who came up with a sack in that pivotal third quarter, and Brian Price, who, as expected, announced after the contest that he was making himself available for the NFL Draft.
Since Price was the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year, no one was surprised at his decision; he is projected as a first round pick.
It was plain to see that UCLA (7-6) gave an outstanding effort throughout the game, as they have all season.
The execution, however, was not quite there until the last two quarters, much like it was for much of 2009—an A+ for effort, a somewhat lesser grade at times for results.
The fact that the Bruins overcame adversity, the cold, and an Owl team (9-4) from Philadelphia determined to show that they can play with the BCS big boys says a lot about UCLA's character and resilience.
As coach Rick Neuheisel mentioned afterward, the Bruins could have went with an "it's not our day" attitude after falling behind, but they fought back and got the win, their first in the postseason since beating Northwestern in the 2005 Sun Bowl.
That not only boded well for the outgoing seniors, allowing them to go out on a good note, but it also bodes well for next year, as UCLA continues to build its program.
In the meantime, I'm sure that after earning their first winning season in three years, the Bruins will immensely enjoy their flight back from the frigid District of Columbia, return to Westwood with the knowledge that their football campaign ended well, and look forward to spring practice and 2010.