STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – Trailing at halftime to Temple, No. 23 Penn State was 30 minutes away from what would have been a historic loss at Happy Valley.
There were no big halftime speeches, and only a couple minor adjustments — but plenty of emotions coming out of the locker room at the half for the Nittany Lions.
Collin Wagner tied a school record with five field goals, Evan Royster ran for a career-high 187 yards and Penn State's defense dominated the second half in a 22-13 win Saturday against the upstart Owls.
Penn State extended its winning streak against the Owls to 28 games, avoiding its first loss to Temple since 1941. Few have been this tough, especially of late.
Temple (3-1) had been outscored 154-9 in its previous four games with Penn State, but took a 13-6 lead in the first quarter on Bernard Pierce's two touchdown runs. He later left the game with a right ankle injury, and the Owls' offense stalled after halftime.
"We came out with a little more energy, we had something to prove," said Penn State linebacker Nathan Stupar, who had a sack and a 31-yard interception return. "We put our facemasks into people and wanted to play and wanted to dominate and that's what we did."
The swarming blue-and-white D played its finest half of the season and gave the offense enough time to clean up its shoddy work in Temple territory.
The defense shut out Temple after the first quarter and harassed Chester Stewart, who also threw two interceptions to Nick Sukay. Fellow linebackers Michael Mauti and Chris Colasanti each had seven tackles.
The Nittany Lions (3-1) had little trouble moving the ball until they got inside the 40, but Wagner's right leg bailed them out. His 21-yarder with 1:38 left in the third quarter finally gave Penn State a 15-13 lead.
"Just make a couple things go our way and it's a different ballgame in the first half," receiver Brett Brackett said. "So we just decided to keep it cool, and do what we had to do, and I think we did a good job of that in the second half."
Fans at Beaver Stadium breathed a collective sigh after Michael Zordich's 1-yard touchdown run gave Penn State a nine-point lead late in the fourth.
"We really thought we'd be there this year, we thought we'd get to the half. That's one of the keys to playing up here," Temple coach Al Golden said. "Most of the teams that end up getting blown out is because they can't make it to the half."
Golden's turnaround nearly project took a huge step forward in Happy Valley, where he played his college ball and later worked as an assistant coach.
Stewart finished 8 of 19 passing for 46 yards and Pierce finished with 10 carries for 42 yards.
Freshman Rob Bolden was 18 of 28 for 223 yards for Penn State. He looked out of sync at times in the red zone, but made some key completions to help set up Zordich's TD with 3:35 left to cap a 12-play, 96 yard drive.
"For like two quarters there it didn't look like we converted on third down, that was an issue," Golden said. "They made the plays and we didn't in the fourth quarter, it's as simple as that."
Temple outplayed Penn State in the first half, pouncing on mistakes and turnovers, and getting just enough production out of the running game.
"I think they're doing a great job," Paterno said. "Two or three plays, and Temple wins that game."
Pierce, a sophomore touted by Temple as a Heisman Trophy candidate, scored his first TD with 9:06 left, 58 seconds after Royster fumbled at his own 28, to give the Owls a 7-3 lead.
After the second of Wagner's three first-half field goals cut Temple's lead to 7-6, Pierce scored again with 10 seconds left in the first quarter on nearly the exact same play into the same corner of the end zone. A botched hold on the extra-point attempt left the score 13-6.
The Owls arrived in Happy Valley fresh with confidence from a 30-16 victory last week over Connecticut, the school's first victory over a team from a conference with an automatic BCS bid since 2004. That coming after last season's 9-4 record and first bowl bid since 1979.
Royster had a breakout game, getting 26 carries after struggling for 110 yards on 31 carries over his first three games.
The Nittany Lions also lost starting right tackle Lou Eliades to a right knee injury.