Scott Scherer, a 5-8 walk-on quarterback, started his first game for the University of Memphis Saturday and promptly led the Tigers on an eight-play, 84-yard scoring drive. The Memphis offense later took advantage of two East Carolina fumbles staking Memphis to a 17-0 first quarter lead that they did not relinquish in a 17-10 upset win over conference rival East Carolina. Memphis is now 4-2 (2-1 in C-USA) and one step closer to the schools first winning season since 1994.
Scherer, the son of head coach Rip Scherer, started because the two quarterbacks ahead of him on the depth chart, Neil Suber and Travis Anglin, are injured. Scherer showed remarkable poise, completing his first six passes. For the game, he hit I8 of 25 for 175 yards. He was not intercepted.
After the game, in the small room where Rip Scherer meets the press, there were plenty of tears. Michelle Scherer, the quarterbacks mother, had obviously been crying. When the coach entered the room, he said, You have to get her out of here. He was stopped by emotion several times.
Thats a special win in a lot of ways. To have that little guy step up and play the way he did. Im really proud of him and Im proud of the way everybody rallied around him, Scherer said.
After the Tigers drove for the first touchdown (tailback Sugar Sanders on a four-yard run) the entire team went into a joyous celebration. They hadnt even settled down before Derrick Ballard forced ECUs Keith Stokes to fumble the ensuing kick-off. The Memphis offense ran back on the field and in six plays punched the ball into the end zone. The touchdown came on a 6-yard quarterback keeper. It was 14-0 before the Pirates ran their first offensive play.
When ECU finally got the ball they turned it over again. Quarterback David Garrard fumbled after being hit by nose tackle Marcus Bell. Calvin Lewis recovered at the East Carolina 41. Thirteen plays later Ryan White nailed a 20-yard field goal and Memphis had an incredible 17-0 lead with six minutes still left in the first quarter.
Sophomore tailback Jeff Sugar Sanders and junior wide receiver Reginald Bunkie Perkins both had career days for Memphis. Sanders went over the century mark for the first time, carrying the ball 29 times for 132 yards. Perkins, a transfer from Hinds Junior College, continued his improved play catching six passes for 85 yards.
Being staked to an early lead put the Tiger defense -- ranked seventh in the country -- in an unusual position. The Tiger defenders put pressure on Garrard the entire game, sacking him three times, intercepting him twice, and causing him to fumble once. Garrard threw the ball 41 times, completing 18 for 246 yards (120 coming in the fourth quarter when ECU was forced to pass on almost every down).
Memphis continued to have special team problems. Two Ryan White field goals were blocked, keeping the Tigers from extending their lead. The Pirates got back in the game in the fourth quarter. Garrard hit Rashon Burns for a 17-yard touchdown. Kevin Miller added a 23-yard field goal with four minutes to go. But the Tiger defense held when it had to and Memphis won its first game against East Carolina since 1993.
The Memphis players voted to give the game ball to Scott Scherer. The walk-on with the 4.0 grade point average had turned down numerous scholarship offers from several Division I-AA to play for his father.
Hes a tough little guy, said his father. One of the reasons he has the players respect is because hes a tough little guy.
Scherer had lots of support. The offensive line played maybe its best game of the season. We knew we had to protect him, said senior guard Lou Esposito. We had a lot of confidence in him.
Of course we felt a need to protect him, laughed sophomore center Jimond Pugh from the locker next to Esposito. I want to keep my job next week.
Pugh said Scherer was calm and cool.
That neatly summed up the first start of Scott Scherers career.
I knew I could do the job if I got a chance, Scherer said. That has been my dream all along, to get an opportunity like this and get a big win. I just cant explain how good it feels.
Scherer said his teammates had told him all week that they had confidence in him. It was great to know that everybody believed in me that much, Scherer said. The first drive reflected the preparation we had put in all week.
Scherer said he surprised even himself with his calmness. Even this morning on the bus ride, I felt nervous, he said. But once I got in there under center, I felt calm. I just tried to play my role.
Not all the Scherer family could claim they were calm. Scotts father said he barely slept the night before the game. His mother, Michelle, said, I was more nervous before this game than Ive ever been in my whole life.
Sometimes the best players show up by accident. Nobody asked me, I just came, explained center Jimond Pugh
, who transferred to Memphis after spending his red shirt freshman year at Florida A&M. For the sixth game this season Pugh played every offensive snap. Its understood that the center is going to be in on every snap, unless the game is out of hand, Pugh said. You dont want to get too many centers in the game because of the quarterback exchange. . . . Glen Sumter
picked off his fourth pass of the season. He is among the national leaders in that category. . . . Senior tight end Billy Kendall
had his consecutive game streak in which he had caught at least one pass snapped at 21. The streak started in Kendalls sophomore season. . . . Freshman quarterback Danny Wimprine
led the cheers for Scott Scherer. It did not go unnoticed by the senior Scherer. Danny Wimprine is a great leader. Hes cheering when the defense is on the field. Hes incessant. He has a real magnetism about him, said the coach, who was prepared to use Wimprine if he needed him. Scherer discussed that decision with Wimprines parents in Louisiana during the week. Memphis is hopeful of redshirting the quarterback.
(You can write Dennis Freeland at email@example.com