WEST POINT -- Free safety Idrees Bashir ran an interception back a school-record 100 yards propelling the University of Memphis to their third consecutive victory, 26-16 at Army. It was the first Conference USA game for Memphis but the win came at a high price.
Jared Pigue, the Tigers deep snapper injured his knee on a third- quarter punt. The injury, which happened when one of Pigues teammates ran into him, is thought to be a season-ender for the true freshman from Nashville. On a day where Memphis special team mistakes led directly to all 16 Army points, it is easy to see just how devastating the loss of this non-scholarship freshman may be.
Army ran back a punt for one touchdown, returned a fumbled kickoff for another, and scored a safety after Pigues replacement snapped the ball over Ben Graves head late in the game. Memphis special teams also allowed a blocked punt and had a high snap, blowing a point-after-touchdown attempt.
For the second time in four games the Memphis defense pitched a shutout, but the goose egg didnt go on the scoreboard.
Tailback Sugar Sanders also left the game early, pulling up with the same hobbled ankle that has plagued him all season. Sanders had a career-best 62-yard touchdown run early in the first quarter. But after running 31 times against Arkansas State, the sophomore could only rush seven times before the ankle wore out.
On a positive note, reserve quarterback Neil Suber was solid in his first start of the year (20-31-1, 187 yards, 1 TD). And freshman running back Jeremiah Bonds, getting a chance to play because of injuries to Sanders and Dernice Wherry, showed a glimpse of his big-play potential with a 31-yard touchdown run after catching a short pass from Suber. The catch and run broke a 14-14 deadlock midway through the fourth quarter.
Army drove for what could have been the go-ahead touchdown after the bad snap on the conversion left the score at 20-14. But Bashir intercepted a Curtis Zervic pass in the Memphis endzone with 3:49 remaining. He streaked down the sideline in front of the Army bench and broke a record that had stood at the U of M since 1958.
After Memphis failed on its two-point try, Army scored a safety with 2:08 to go to finish the scoring at 26-16.
The Memphis defense yielded 269 passing yards to the Black Knights, but never allowed them to score. Most of the yardage came, as Arkansas States 222 passing yards the week before had, on short and intermediate passes. At one point in the second quarter Zervic completed 9 passes in a row.
But the Tiger defense made big plays again and again. Besides Bashirs interception, Michael Stone and Glenn Sumter both picked-off Zervic. For Sumter it was his third interception in four games. The sophomore strong safety entered the game ranked 12th in the nation in interceptions. The Tiger defense also had a fumble recovery by nose tackle Marcus Bell.
Memphis takes its three-game winning streak (and five-game road winning streak) to Hattiesburg next Saturday to take on nationally-ranked Southern Miss. The game will be televised as part of the C-USA television package.
GAME NOTES: The previous Memphis record for longest interception return was held by Robert Lyles who ran one back 99 yards against Mississippi State in 1958. . . . The Tiger defense continued to demonstrate its depth. Linebackers Coot Terry and DeMorrio Shank both missed the game with injuries, but freshman Derrick Ballard and redshirt-freshman Greg Harper played well in their place. Also redshirt-freshman Jason Brown continued to start in place of cornerback Marcus Smith. Smith is still hobbled by an ankle injury, but played against Army. . . . Sanders limped off with 13:02 left in the second quarter. He led Memphis with 73 rushing yards. Darche Epting had 66 on 19 carries. . . . Bunkie Perkins had his best day as a Tiger with four catches for 37 yards. Al Sermon led Memphis receivers with 44 yards on four catches. . . . Memphis lost the possession time battle for the first time this year. Army had the ball for 30:41; Memphis 29:19. . . . Wade Smith fumbled a short kickoff to start the second half and Army ran it back to tie the game at 14 just 11 seconds into the half. . . . Several influential U of M boosters attended the game, including former Shelby County Mayor Bill Morris.
(You can write Dennis Freeland at email@example.com