A game which had been sleep-inducing for more than three quarters, erupted into a barn burner as Houston beat Memphis 33-30 in three overtimes. It was the first overtime football game in University of Memphis history and was the longest game ever played between two Conference USA teams.
Memphis (4-4; 2-3 in conference play) either led or were tied throughout regulation, saw quarterback Jason McKinley hit tight end Stephen Cucci with a five-yard touchdown with 3:46 to go in the fourth quarter. That tied the game at 17-17. Ryan White barely missed a 48-yard touchdown at the end of regulation.
In the first overtime, White kicked a 47-yard field goal but Houstons Mike Clark countered with a 35-yard field goal. In the second overtime McKinley hit Tommie Baldwin on a 3-yard scoring strike. The point after touchdown was blocked and returned for an apparent score by Idrees Bashir. But the officials called Memphis for illegal batting, saying that a Tiger player had batted the ball downfield. Houston got to kick again and hit this one, making the score 27-20. When Memphis got the ball back, Scott Scherer passed for a four-yard touchdown to Billy Kendall, sending the game to a third overtime.
On the first play of the third overtime, Scherer was sacked and offensive tackle DeCorye Hampton was called for a 15-yard personal foul penalty. Rip Scherer said after the game that Hampton punched a player. Ryan White ultimately kicked a 43-yard field goal, making the score 30-27 Memphis.
But McKinley would be the hero on this night. He hit Brian Robinson for a 18 yard touchdown over free safety Idrees Bashir and Houston won the game 33-30.
In the locker room, after the game, reporters heard shouting and objects banging, but when the doors opened they only saw a group of quiet, crest fallen football players.
The Tigers had no one to blame but themselves, with 15 penalties for 132 yards. The number of penalties tied a school record. The amount of penalty yardage was the fourth-highest in school history.
You reap what you sow in life and you reap what you sow as a football team, said Rip Scherer after the game. We shot ourselves in the foot with the stupid personal foul penalty in our third overtime possession. That was very stupid. We lost our poise and this is what happens when you lose your poise.
It was another ineffective game for the Memphis offense. All three scores in regulation came after the defense forced turnovers deep in Houston territory. Even with the extra periods, Memphis could only manage 202 yards on 72 offensive plays. Houston held the Tigers to 73 yards on the ground.
Memphis never threatened in the first quarter, accumulating only 56 yards and two first downs. The Tigers never got beyond the 50-yard line in the period. Houstons offense could not do much better. Mike Clark attempted a 45-yard field goal, but it was blocked by Memphis cornerback Michael Stone.
Stone set up the games first score moments later, picking off a McKinley pass at the Houston 33 and returning it to the 6-yard line. Two plays later Sugar Sanders sprinted around left end from the two for the games first touchdown. Whites extra point made it 7-0 with 11:36 to go in the first half.
Houston responded with a 13-play, 80-yard drive with McKinley hitting Tommy Baldwin on a seven-yard pass for the tying touchdown at 7:17.
Special teams again proved a problem for Memphis. The Cougars partially blocked two Ben Graves punts in the first half. But Houston repaid the generosity with a bad snap which was downed at the 12 -yard line. Quarterback Scott Scherer was sacked for a loss of 8 on third down, but Ryan White hit a 38-yard field goal to send the Tigers to the locker room with a 10-7 lead.
Memphis could only muster five first downs in the first half. The Cougars offense only did marginally better. McKinley completed 16 of 24 for 116 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Houston had -7 yards rushing.
Houston tied the game at 10 all with a Clark field goal from 22 yards out late in the third quarter. Memphis nose guard Marcus Bell recovered a fumble at the Houston 25 yard line and Scherer hit Ryan Johnson with a 25 yard touchdown, making the score 17-10.
Memphis now has a week off before playing Tennessee on November 4th.
Joey Gerda was replaced in the starting lineup by Jason Austin at the left guard spot that has been troublesome all year. Last years starter, David Sherrod, left the team after the 1999 season. His replacement, Josh Eargle suffered an ACL injury in the second game of the season. Trey Erye and Joey Gerda have started there. Austin becomes the fourth player to start at left guard.
Jared Pigue returned as deep snapper and for the first time in four tries Ryan White successfully completed a field goal. The kick came on the last play of the first half and gave Memphis a 10-7 halftime lead. The Tigers had suffered three consecutive blocked field goals covering the past two games. Pigue injured his knee at Army. It was his first action since then.