Navy 45, #15 Memphis 20


The triple-option is a maddening attack to defend. As predictable as a date on the calendar, it makes clear what's coming (at least the three possibilities). Can you stop it? In the hands of the right ball carriers, it can't be stopped.

Navy played mistake-free football Saturday night at the Liberty Bowl to thoroughly beat the Tigers, ending a program-record 15-game winning streak and dismantling hopes for an undefeated season. Memphis (8-1) will drop from its current ranking of 15 in the AP poll and must now get some help from others to earn a spot in the inaugural American Athletic Conference championship game.

The game was played in front of the largest crowd (55,212) ever to witness a Memphis conference game at the Liberty Bowl.

"The turnout was fantastic," said Tiger coach Justin Fuente. "I wish we could have played a little better for them. Navy is tough and physical. They run a lot better than they're given credit for. They kicked our tails tonight. We made too many mistakes, and even if we hadn't made mistakes, I'm
Paxton Lynch is chased from the pocket. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Paxton Lynch is chased from the pocket.
 not sure how it would have turned out."

The Tigers took the opening kickoff and scored in less than two minutes, the key play a  60-yard catch-and-run from quarterback Paxton Lynch to reserve tight end Daniel Montiel. (Anthony Miller scored on an 11-yard pass reception.) But the Midshipmen controlled play the rest of the game.

Fullback Chris Swain crashed through the Memphis line for a three-yard touchdown to culminate a nine-minute drive and tie the game at seven. (Swain would finish with 108 yards on 18 carries and three touchdowns, including a 40-yard back-breaker that gave Navy a 31-20 lead late in the third quarter.) A Lynch interception (just his second of the season) allowed Navy kicker Austin Grebe to kick a 44-yard field goal with 17 seconds left before halftime, extending Navy's lead to 17-10.

The Tigers forced Navy to punt on its first second-half possession and tied the game at 17 on a one-yard Miller run with 6:53 to go in the third. But Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds hit DeBrandon Sanders for a 75-yard touchdown on the next play from scrimmage to give the Midshipmen the lead for good. (Reynolds threw only five passes the entire game.)

"When you're hanging by a thread on every play . . . they're a nightmare," said Fuente. The coach said he "kicked himself" for a pair of fourth-down attempts that failed. Wideout Phil Mayhue lost a fumble after a pass reception late in the third quarter with the Tigers down 11.

"They're disappointed," added Fuente. "They've played well enough to win several games in a row. I don't want to say it's good, but now and then you need to be reminded what [losing] feels like. When asked about motivation as a showdown at Houston (9-0) looms, Fuente described a "burning desire to not feel like this again."

Navy finished the game with 374 rushing yards and did not turn the ball over. The Midshipmen dominated the clock with 36:57 of possession time and converted eight of 13 third-down attempts, often sweeping the width of the field, faster than the Memphis edge defenders.

In passing for 305 yards, Lynch became the first Memphis quarterback to surpass 3,000 yards in two seasons. It's only the fourth time in Tiger history a passer has achieved the milestone. He could break the Memphis record (3,220 by Martin Hankins in 2007) next Saturday in Texas.

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