JONESBORO, AR -- In the end Memphis ran the ball. ... And ran the ball. ... And ran the ball. Of the 13 plays in the 58-yard drive that culminated in Ryan Whites winning 35-yard field goal, 12 were running plays with either Sugar Sanders or Darche Epting carrying the ball. The drive began at the Memphis 24 with 6:35 left in the game and Arkansas State leading 17-16. When Whites kick split the uprights only 49 seconds remained.
The final quarter of the game began with Memphis leading 16-3, but Cleo Lemon, Arkansas States nifty senior quarterback, led his team on two long touchdown drives to give the Indians the lead and set up the late game heroics of the Tiger offensive line and backs. Head coach Rip Scherer had maintained all year that the Memphis offense was going to be a good rushing team. On that final drive, they may have proven it.
Lemon tried to rally his team for a game-winning score but came about three feet short. Lemon completed two passes for 30 yards to his favorite receiver, Robert Killow, to move the ball to the Memphis 35. But Nick Gattos 52-yard field goal attempt was about three feet short.
It was hard not to think that Scherers career at Memphis hung in the balance as Gattos kick soared toward the goal post. When it fell harmlessly to the ground, Scherer and his beleaguered offense had a new lease on life.
In the past five years weve always found a way for these type games to get away from us. You play your heart out and you let it get away, a jubilant Scherer said after the game. Im proud of Ryan White. But more importantly, Im proud of our offense. When we had to have a drive, had to get field position, had to grind it out, we did it. They knew what we were doing. They had nine or ten in the box. We were running hard. Running for first downs. This kind of game is a character builder. It might not have been pretty, but winning like that late in the game can really help our season.
Memphis rushed the ball for 147 yards and didnt turn the ball over for the first time this season. Sanders rushed for 96 net yards and Billy Kendall caught four passes for 40 yards. Kendalls first catch of the day was the biggest, a 12-yard touchdown in the first quarter. The touchdown followed a Glenn Sumpter interception of a Lemon pass. Sumpter returned the ball 32 yards to the ASU 17, setting up the touchdown. After that Memphis could only manage four field goals from White, the Playboy all-American. Whites field goals were from 19, 26, 42, and 35.
The Arkansas State offense got untracked in the second half -- with 81 and 67 yard touchdown drives. The Indians gained 324 yards on the nations second-ranked defense. It was the first time Memphis had allowed more than 100 yards rushing or 200 yards passing this season.
Memphis now prepares for its first conference game Saturday at West Point. It will be the Tigers first trip to Army since 1985.
This is the first time Memphis has started a year 2-1 since 1984.
Quarterback Travis Anglin suffered an ankle sprain in the third quarter and was replaced by Neil Suber. Anglin will likely miss at least two weeks with the injury. Guard Trey Erye, playing in place of Josh Eargle, suffered a hyperextended elbow in the game. His status will be determined later in the week. Linebacker DeMorrio Shank, tailback Dernice Wherry, and cornerback Marcus Smith all sat out the game with injuries.
With the touchdown catch, Billy Kendall extended to 19 a streak of games in which the senior tight end has caught at least one pass. The streak started when Kendall was a sophomore.
Al Sermon saw his first action of the season with five catches for 38 yards. Six different Tiger receivers caught passes.
For the second consecutive week a Memphis opponent had zero punt return yardage. Ben Graves averaged 40 yards on 5 punts.
The linebackers led Memphis in tackles. Kamal Shakir had 9 and Coot Terry and Greg Harper had 8. Terry also had a sack.
(You can write Dennis Freeland at email@example.com)