Akeem Ayers returned an interception 2 yards for a go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter and UCLA shut down Temple in the second half for a 30-21 victory Tuesday in the EagleBank Bowl.
The Bruins (7-6) rallied from a 21-7 first-half deficit to finish with a winning record for the first time since 2006. That mini-slump by UCLA pales in comparison to the decades of futility endured by the Owls (9-4), whose only previous bowl appearances in school history were the inaugural Sugar Bowl in 1935 and the Garden State Bowl in 1979.
UCLA braved the freezing temperatures and a wind chill in the teens to overcome a sluggish start. Kevin Prince completed 16 of 31 passes for 221 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. His counterpart, Vaughn Charlton, had more interceptions (two) than completed passes (one) in the second half.
The Bruins had pulled within 21-20 before Ayers stepped in front of Charlton's screen pass and strolled into the end zone with 6:01 to play. It was Ayers who also had one of the most amazing interceptions of the college football season in October, when he leaped to snag a pass in the back of the end zone in a loss to Oregon.
The Bruins got a 2-point conversion, then added two more when Temple snapped the ball over its punter's head and out of the own end zone for a safety with 4:29 remaining.
Temple sputtered in the second half minus its star running back, Bernard Pierce. The freshman, who ran for more than 1,300 yards and scored 15 TDs despite missing most of the last two games with an injured shoulder, was hurt again. He sat out as the Owls squandered a lead he helped build with another touchdown run.
The temperature was 32 at kickoff with the wind chill at 19, and it only got colder as the evening wore on - hardly the ideal setting for a team from southern California. By contrast, Temple coach Al Golden didn't even wear a coat for most of the day.
Golden opted for Charlton at quarterback over Chester Stewart, who had started the last four games. Charlton wasted no time getting the Owls downfield on the opening drive, hitting James Nixon deep over the middle for a 43-yard gain to set up a 26-yard touchdown pass to tight end Steve Maneri.
A pair of big plays also put UCLA on the board. Terrence Austin returned a punt 47 yards, and, on the next play, Nelson Rosario made a juggling catch down the left sideline for a 46-yard score that tied it at 7 in the first quarter.
The Owls then went to the running game, staying on the ground for 53 yards of an 85-yard drive. Pierce slalomed like a skier through the Bruins defense for an 11-yard touchdown run as Temple regained the lead.
Marquise Liverpool's interception of Prince's overthrown pass set up the Owls' next touchdown. A face mask penalty on the return moved the ball to UCLA's 15, and Matt Brown scored from 2 yards four plays later to make it 21-7.
Kai Forbath's 40-yard field goal on the final play of the first cut UCLA's deficit, and the Bruins scored on the first possession of the second half when Austin caught a fourth-and-1 pass in the flat and took it 32 yards up the right sideline for a touchdown.
Temple was moving to score again, but Brown was stopped on fourth-and-1 at the UCLA 9, and Bruins sophomore Rahim Moore's 10th interception of the season ended another Owls drive. Moore leads major college football in interceptions.
Forbath, who won the Lou Groza Award honoring the nation's best kicker, made a 42-yarder to pull the Bruins within a point with 12:31 to play.
The game drew 23,072 to RFK Stadium, a decline of more than 5,000 from last year's inaugural game. Organizers had to dig deep for participants because the original matchup - Army vs. an Atlantic Coast Conference team - didn't pan out because Army finished with a losing record and the ACC lacked enough bowl-eligible schools.