I dont know if Ive ever been though anything like that, said Tigers football head coach Tommy West said after his squad dropped a heart-breaking loss to the Cincinnati Bearcats 36-34 at the Liberty Bowl.
The loss places Memphis at 5-6 for the season, one win shy of a coveted winning season or a possible bowl berth.
My team gave it everything it had, West said. I hope we learned something. We let it get away. West watched his squad take an early lead in the second quarter only to lose that lead in the third, regain the lead once again in the final minutes, and then finally give it up again with only seconds to go.
The roller-coaster that was the score matched the emotions rampant on the field and in the stands as the Tigers found a way to lose a seemingly fool-proof situation.
With 2:16 left in the fourth quarter, Memphis quarterback Danny Wimprine found receiver Antoine Harden in the endzone to put Memphis up by four points over Cincinnati. After the ensuing kickoff, the Tiger defense managed to push the Bearcats back to a 4th down with 27 yards to go on the Cincinnati 27 yard line. Bearcats quarterback Gino Guidugli then found Jon Olinger for a 36 yard completion, giving Cincinnati a fresh first and ten in Memphis territory. Moments later, Guidugli again tossed to Olinger for a shot in the endzone to put the Bearcats up by two, a lead the visiting squad would keep for the remaining seconds of the game.
Memphis had difficulties stopping both aspects of the Bearcats offense. Cincinnati amassed 572 yards in total offense with two different rushers running for over a hundred yards on the ground. Demarcus McCleskey ran for 129 yards and Ray Jackson ran for 113 yards. Guidugli finished the game with 18 completions on 36 attempts for 348 yards passing and two touchdowns. Both of those were to Olinger who finished the day with six catches and 144 yards. Bearcats kicker Jonathon Ruffin nailed three separate attempts from 20 yards, 45 yards, and 26 yards, respectively.
In response, Memphis took to the skies with freshman quarterback Wimprine who threw for 16 completions out of 33 attempts for 295 yards and three touchdowns. Wimprine would also run for 81 yards. Freshman receiver Darron White caught seven of those passes for 123 yards and two touchdowns. Tailback Dante Brown returned to form with a 93 yard running performance and a touchdown on 15 attempts, and kicker Ryan White kicked in two field goals from 30 yards and 22 yards, respectively.
But in the end, all those numbers couldnt add up to a winning season and the winter of Memphis football frustration continues for another season. But despite this setback, West says that a thaw is coming in the long run. Theres been a lot of progress. Im proud of that, he said, referring to the teams inability to even move the ball earlier in the season versus the 400 plus yards of offense the squad put together against Cincinnati. And if the squad is not ready yet to finally break through that barrier of wins and losses, West stands resolute, saying Im going to be tougher than whatever it is that keeps the Memphis squad from a winning season.
Theres no secret, West went on to say. Just roll up your sleeves and get to work. This team will take responsibility. Ill see to that. Thats my job.