We need to be careful about over-using the word epic
in describing victories. But in erasing a 17-point deficit at league-rival Houston for their second win in six days, the Memphis Tigers may indeed have secured just such a win Thursday night. Tiger quarterback Riley Ferguson
connected with sophomore tight end Sean Dykes
— a native of Houston, Texas — for a 21-yard touchdown pass with 1:33 left in the game to give Memphis a sweep of its season's toughest two-game test. Now with a record of 6-1 overall and 3-1 in the American Athletic Conference, Memphis has a path to the AAC West Division championship, having beaten both Navy and Houston.
The first half was as ugly as the second was epic for the Tigers, with six punts and a pair of turnovers allowing the Cougars to take command on the scoreboard. A rare Anthony Miller fumble and a Ferguson interception in Houston territory led to 10 of Houston's 17 first-half points. The Tigers' freshman kicker, Riley Patterson, missed a 52-yard field-goal attempt after Houston coach Major Applewhite used three consecutive timeouts at the end of the half, the first time in 64 games Memphis played 30 minutes of football without scoring.
Riley Ferguson, Anthony MIller
Gamesmanship can backfire, though, and the Tigers played like a motivated bunch after halftime. They scored touchdowns on six consecutive possessions, four on runs by Patrick Taylor
and another on Tony Pollard
's third kickoff return for a touchdown this season (and the fifth of his two-year career). Pollard's 93-yard return came with 6:11 left to play in the third quarter, immediately after the Cougars had taken a 24-7 lead on a one-yard run by Duke Catalon.
A fumble by Houston quarterback Kyle Postma early in the fourth quarter was the defensive stop Memphis needed to tighten the margin. (Junior cornerback Tito Windham
stripped the ball, which was recovered by freshman nose tackle John Tate
.) Taylor's third touchdown (after an apparent Houston interception in the end zone was ruled incomplete upon review) brought Memphis within 31-28 with 11:15 left in the game.
Postma found Steven Dunbar for an 8-yard score on Houston's next possession to extend the lead back to 10 points. But the Tigers' again answered, this time with a drive keyed by a bomb to Miller, who finished the game with 10 catches for 178 yards. Taylor's fourth touchdown made the score 38-35 with 5:32 to play.
The Memphis defense finally managed to force a Houston punt, giving Patterson and friends the ball with 3:17 to play at their own 20-yard line. Ferguson completed passes to Pollard, Miller, Taylor, and freshman Damonte Coxie
to set up the game-winner to Dykes.
Houston had two more possessions, but each ended with turnovers, the latter on freshman cornerback T.J. Carter
's fourth interception of the season. With the loss, the Cougars fall to 4-3 (2-2).
Ferguson finished the game with 471 yards passing, completing 33 of his 53 throws. In addition to his kickoff-return heroics, Pollard caught nine passes for 91 yards. Memphis gained 501 yards in total offense (and allowed the Houston offense 554).
Memphis now has seven full days to prepare for Tulane. The Green Wave (3-3 and facing USF Saturday) visits the Liberty Bowl on Friday, October 27th. Three of the Tigers' four remaining regular-season games will be at home.