MEMPHIS, Tenn–The University of Memphis football team fell in heartbreaking fashion, 28-24, to Houston on Saturday evening at the Liberty Bowl in front of 32,784 fans. The Tigers picked up 368 yards of total offense while holding the Cougars to 354 yards, but five turnovers hindered the offensive output. Memphis moves to 3-3 and 1-1 in American Conference play while Houston improves to 3-3 and 1-1 in conference.
Quarterback Paxton Lynch finished 26-of-37 with 243 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions while adding 35 yards rushing and a touchdown. Sam Craft led the Tigers in rushing with 49 yards on 17 touches. Tevin Jones caught six passes for 72 yards and a score.
Defensively Terry Redden and Martin Ifedi led the Blue and Gray with seven tackles. Redden logged six solo stops along with half a sack and 1.5 tackles for loss. Ifedi, Jackson Dillon and Leonard Pegues each recorded two tackles for loss.
The Tigers forced a turnover on Houston’s opening possession when Fritz Etienne picked off Greg Ward, Jr.’s pass to give Memphis the ball at the Houston 27. A three-and-out by the Blue and Gray saw Jake Elliot’s 44-yard field goal attempt go wide left.
After forcing a three-and-out on the Cougar’s next possession, the Tigers marched 72 yards in seven plays. The drive was capped off when Lynch found Jones with blockers set up on the screen for 18 yards and a touchdown at the 8:35 mark in the first quarter. Lynch orchestrated the offense on the series, going 4-for-4 with 54 passing yards and a TD.
Houston would drive the length of the field after a miscue on the kickoff, starting at its own 14 yard line. The Cougars would push the ball inside the red zone, but back-to-back TFL’s by Leonard Pegues, Jackson Dillon and Noah Robinson and an incomplete pass brought out the field goal unit. Steven Aikens’ field-goal attempt of 31 yards missed wide left.
The Tigers would go three-and-out on the next possession, but a muffed punt rekindled the drive for the Blue and Gray. Lynch scampered around the left side for six yards to find pay dirt and put the Tigers up 14-0 with 14:29 remaining in the second.
Houston’s Ward answered with a scoring strike of his own as he eluded the pass rush and escaped down the field for the 64-yard touchdown to cut the lead in half, 14-7, at the 12:47 mark in the second quarter.
The Cougar’s would tie the game at 14 after Kenneth Farrow punched the ball in from two yards out. The Houston drive was set up by a Lynch pass that was intercepted by Lee Hightower which was returned to the end zone, but a block in the back call during the return negated the touchdown and started the drive at the Memphis 21.
Memphis would be bit by the turnover bug again on the following possession, but Houston would give the ball right back to the Tigers when Tank Jakes forced and recovered a fumble in Houston territory.
After exchanging punts over the next several possessions, Memphis took over with 2:06 remaining in the half, set up in Houston territory by a 23 yarD Punt return by Keiwone Malone to the 39. Lynch would find Daniel Montief on a play action to give the Tigers the 21-14 lead with a minute left in the half.
Following the intermission, Houston mounted a drive to tie the game at 21 with 4:36 remaining in the third quarter. The Cougars went 85 yards in eight plays before Jackson Ryan found the end zone to tie the game.
Houston would take its first lead of the game with 13:34 remaining in the final quarter when Ward found Markieth Ambles from 25 yards out for a score, 28-21.
The Tigers answered with a scoring drive of their own, putting up a field goal behind the leg of Elliot from 31 yards out to cut Houston’s lead to 28-24.
Needing a three-and-out to give the offense a chance to score the go-ahead touchdown, the Memphis defense held Houston to three-straight negative plays and forcing a punt. The Tigers special teams came up big as well, downing the following punt at the three yard line. The defense of the Blue and Gray came up with a second-straight three-and-out, giving the offense the ball at the Houston 42, but a Tevin Jones fumble gave the Cougars back the ball on the proceeding play.
The Tigers took over with 1:52 on the clock at the Memphis 26 and picked up a first down, but a Lynch interception over the middle of the field by Efram Oliphant sealed the game, 28-24.