Tigers upset bid against No. 10 UCF comes up short

MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Darrell Henderson rushed for 199 yards, surpassed 1,000 yards in a season and moved to No. 2 on the University of Memphis football program’s career rushing list, but his efforts weren’t enough to topple the nation’s 10th-ranked team.

UCF won its 19th straight game with a 31-30 American Athletic Conference victory over the Tigers Saturday at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium, even though Henderson nearly ended the streak.

Henderson broke free for a 32-yard touchdown run with about six minutes left, but the play was negated by a holding penalty. Had the play stood, the Tigers would have led, 36-31.

The Tigers had one final chance, but ran out of time and good fortune. Memphis was moving into position for a last-second field goal by Riley Patterson, but a late penalty — combined with no timeouts – forced the Tigers to watch time run out.

Memphis fell to 4-3 overall and 1-3 in the American and saw its 12-game, regular-season home winning streak snapped. UCF improved to 6-0 and 3-0 and denied the Tigers a shot for an upset win over a nationally ranked team at home for the fourth consecutive season.

“Hats off to UCF,” said Tiger coach Mike Norvell. “They did a really nice job coming back (from a 16-point, first-half deficit). I’m really proud of the way our team competed. We competed for 60 minutes.

“We got off to a fast start, which we knew was necessary. Unfortunately in the second half, we did things that are going to cost you against a great opponent. We turned the ball over twice and had a touchdown called back (by penalty). Our football team battled and prepared, so it’s so disappointing when you come up short.”

UCF was trailing by 13 late in the third quarter when it converted more than a fourth-and-short play from its 29. Taj McGowan busted free from a scrum after gaining enough for a first down and rambled 71 yards for a touchdown with 2:41 to go in the quarter. It trimmed the Memphis lead to 30-24.

After the teams exchanged fumbles, UCF came up with another as Titus Davis pounced on a miscue by UofM receiver Kedarian Jones at the UCF 26. The Knights methodically marched 74 yards in eight plays, converting on third-and-11 during the drive and scoring on Milton’s 7-yard run with 12:14 to go in the fourth quarter. Milton reached the ball across the goal as he was hit and spun around. The extra point gave UCF a 31-30 lead.

The Tigers appeared to have regained the lead with about six minutes left when Henderson bolted 32 yards for a go-ahead score. But the TD was negated by a holding penalty.

“I saw the flag,” said Tiger quarterback Brady White. “And I was hoping it was on them.”

The Tigers finished 490 total yards, including 281 on the ground. They had 27 first downs, nine more than UCF, but the mistakes eventually cost them.

“We have to learn how to finish games,” Henderson said. “That’s really it. We have to stay focused the whole four quarters.”

Henderson, the nation’s leading rusher, had his 199 rushing yards on a career-high 31 carries. White was 17-of-29 for 209 yards. Receiver Damonte Coxie finished with 86 yards on four receptions.

Memphis grabbed a 30-17 lead at the half after amassing 339 yards and 18 first downs.

The Tigers scored on their opening possession – a 43-yard Patterson field goal – to take a 3-0 lead.

UCF answered with a 75-yard scoring drive to go up, 7-3. McGowan scored on a 2-yard run to cap a short drive of 1:47.

The Tigers then scored on their next five possessions, three drives resulting in touchdowns.

White ended an 11-play, 83-yard drive by rushing 11 yards untouched for the TD to put the Tigers ahead, 10-7. After holding the Knights on downs, the Tigers moved 61 yards in six plays, scoring on a 25-yard run by Henderson. Henderson had 50 of the scoring drive’s yards and crossed the goal line as the first quarter ended.

On UCF’s next possession, Memphis stopped the Knights on a fourth-and-short and promptly drove into position for another Patterson field goal, this one from 45 yards, for a 20-7 Tigers’ lead.

The Knights had a quick response, needing only one snap to make it a 20-13 game. Milton found Gabriel Davis on a crossing route and he turned the reception into a 75-yard touchdown play.

The Tigers scored on their next two possessions to go up, 30-14. Patterson ended an 11-play, 70-yard drive with a 22-yard field goal and on the following UofM series Tony Pollard scored on a 19-yard run. Henderson had 47 of the 60 yards on the drive.

Memphis looked to take the lead into the locker room at the half, but called a timeout as UCF kicker Matthew Wright’s 44-yard try struck the right upright. Wright got another try and converted as the half ended.

Memphis travels to Missouri next weekend to play its final non-conference game of the season.