Monday, December 22, 2014

Tigers Take OT Thriller at Miami Beach Bowl

Posted By on Mon, Dec 22, 2014 at 10:45 AM

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The Memphis Tigers took six years of bowl-free frustration and packed the energy into a football game that needed two overtimes to be decided. Not until sophomore cornerback DaShaughn Terry intercepted BYU quarterback Christian Stewart's pass on the Cougars' second possession of overtime did the U of M secure its second 10-win season in program history.

Two palm-sweating plays made the Tigers' 55-48 win possible. First sophomore quarterback Paxton Lynch scrambled for eight seconds on fourth down from the BYU 5-yard line before tossing a game-tying touchdown pass to Keiwone Malone with 45 seconds to play. Then on the Tigers' first possession of overtime, sophomore kicker Jake Elliott drilled a 54-yard field goal (that would have been good from 65 yards) to tie the game at 48 and keep Memphis hopes alive.

Lynch found freshman wide receiver Roderick Proctor in the right side of the end zone for an 11-yard score on the Tigers' second overtime possession, setting up Terry's game-clinching heroics.

The inaugural Miami Beach Bowl will be a standard hard to match in years to come. The two teams combined for 13 touchdowns, 914 yards, and nine turnovers . . . with a postgame brawl marring what should be remembered as a highlight of the 2014 bowl season. Lynch completed a record-breaking season for the Tigers, accounting for seven touchdowns (three of them rushing) while also losing a fumble and tossing three interceptions (his first picks since the season's sixth game). In throwing for 306 yards, Lynch finished the season with a total of 3,031, just the third 3,000-yard season in U of M history. His 35 total touchdowns (22 passing, 13 rushing) are a Tiger season record.

The win gives Memphis a final record of 10-3, matching the 1938 team's record for victories. It's also the Tigers seventh consecutive win, the program's longest such streak since 1969.

The teams combined for 31 first-quarter points, with Lynch tossing a touchdown pass to Malone and scoring himself on a bootleg. (Lynch's fumble on the BYU 8-yard line cost the Tigers at least three points and marked a rare Memphis venture inside the opponent's red zone without scoring.) Senior linebacker Derek Howard intercepted a Stewart pass to end the first quarter and Lynch ran the ball in again to complete a short scoring drive and give the Tigers a 24-14 lead. But the Cougars scored twice in the last five minutes before halftime, the second touchdown coming after Lynch's first interception since the October 11th Houston game.

Memphis seemed to take control early in the third quarter, Lynch (again) running the ball in after a 71-yard drive and then finding tight end Alan Cross for a 17-yard touchdown and 38-28 lead. But fourth-quarter turnovers shifted fortune BYU's way. Manoa Pikula picked off a Lynch pass near midfield, setting up a Cougar field goal. Joe Craig fumbled the ensuing kickoff, which led to a short touchdown run by Paul Lasike that tied the score at 38. Lynch's third interception was returned 19 yards for a touchdown by the Cougars' Zac Stout to give BYU a 45-38 lead with 8:18 to play. The score stayed that way until Lynch's last-minute connection to Malone amid a group of Cougar defenders.

The Tigers won the overtime coin toss and gave the ball to BYU for the first possession. The Memphis defense held strong, allowing only a field goal (from 45 yards) by Trevor Samson.

The win completes the country's biggest single-season turnaround, the Tigers having finished the 2013 campaign 3-9. The team shattered the program's scoring record with 471 points, more than doubling the team's total (234) from a year ago. With 49 rushing yards in his final college game, Tiger tailback Brandon Hayes finishes his career with 2,385, fourth in U of M history.

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