GREENVILLE, N.C.–A healthy Darrell Henderson cured several ills for the University of Memphis.
Saturday at ECU’s Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, Henderson returned from missing most of the previous game – a loss at Missouri – and rushed for a game-high 132 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Tigers to a 59-41 American Athletic Conference victory.
The win was the first on the road for the UofM, which improved to 5-4 overall and 2-3 in the conference. ECU dropped to 2-6 and 0-5.
For Memphis, the victory also snapped a two-game losing streak and pushed the Tigers closer to a fifth-straight postseason appearance. Memphis finished with 639 yards total offense.
“I’m really proud of our guys,” Tiger coach Mike Norvell said. “I knew we were going to get a 60-minute battle.
“It was a game we needed. You’re going to have some adversity on the road – there’s going to be some momentum swings — but our guys responded. We did everything necessary to win that game.”
Henderson, who left the Missouri game with a hamstring injury, had touchdown runs of 39 and 20 yards and turned a short screen pass into another score, a 71-yarder in the opening quarter.
The Tigers also got impressive efforts from quarterback Brady White and receiver Damonte Coxie. White passed for 362 yards and three touchdowns, while Coxie set a career-mark with 10 catches for 176 yards and two scores.
“It was impressive to see so many guys contribute,” Norvell said.
Memphis closes the regular-season with games at home Saturday against Tulsa, at SMU Friday Nov. 16 and home against Houston Friday Nov. 23. The Tigers need one more win to become bowl eligible for the fifth-straight year.
“That’s something that’s key for us, that’s key for this program,” Norvell said of keeping the bowl streak alive.
Ahead by seven at the half, the Tigers pushed their lead to 14 points on their first snap of the second half. Coxie hauled in a short slant from White, quickly split two defenders, and sprinted the remainder of the 75 yards to the end zone for a 31-17 advantage.
“We had to get this one,” Coxie said. “We had to get our first win on the road.”
ECU responded with a 2-yard touchdown run from Darius Pinnix, his second short rushing TD of the game and tied the game on a 31-yard pass from Holton Ahlers to Trevon Brown.
Late in the third quarter, the Tigers put together a 13-play drive that resulted in a touchdown run of a yard by Patrick Taylor and a 38-31 lead. Henderson set up the TD with a 17-yard rush to the ECU 2.
ECU trimmed the margin to 38-34 on the following possession as Jake Verity booted a 47-yard field goal, his second of 45 or more yards in the game. It was the closest the Pirates would come the rest of the game.
Henderson gave the Tigers a 45-34 lead early in the fourth quarter when he bolted 20 yards for a touchdown shortly after the UofM converted on fourth-and-short. And Henderson sealed the victory with a 39-yard scoring run with 7:31 left that made it 52-34.
Tony Pollard added the final Memphis TD on a 1-yard run for a 59-41 advantage with 3:02 to go.
For ECU, Ahlers passed for 449 yards and three touchdowns, while Brown caught 10 passes for 193 yards and two TDs.
The Tigers led, 24-17, at the half as White tossed touchdown passes of 71 and 21 yards to Henderson and Coxie, respectively.
Henderson’s TD came on a short reception near the sideline that he turned into a big play on the UofM’s second snap from scrimmage. The TD tied the game at 7-all moments after ECU’s Pinnix had capped a nine-play, 75-yard drive with a 1-yard keeper.
Coxie hustled back from the goal line to the 5-yard line to snare a pass from White and he returned to the end zone for the TD and a 24-14 Memphis lead with 7:21 to go in the second quarter.
Coxie’s touchdown was set up by a fumble recovery by Curtis Akins on a mishandled punt by ECU’s Brown at the Pirates’ 23-yard line. Pollard forced the fumble for the Tigers.
Earlier in the second quarter, Pollard raced six yards around left end to give Memphis a 17-14 lead after ECU had taken a 14-10 advantage on a 10-yard screen pass to Brown from Ahlers.
The only other score in the first half came from Memphis kicker Riley Patterson, who booted a 22-yard field goal midway through the opening quarter.
ECU’s Verity ended the first-half scoring with a 52-yard field goal with 1:02 to go.
Tiger running back Darrell Henderson’s 71-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter off a screen pass from Brady White was the longest reception of his career.
The 75-yard touchdown pass from White to Damonte Coxie on the first snap of the second half represented the longest pass play allowed by the Pirates this season.
Memphis entered the game with an all-time record of 2-8 at ECU’s Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
ECU kicker Jake Verity had field goals of 47 and 53 yards to improve to 15-of-17 on the season.
Coxie set a career-high for receptions when he made his ninth catch of the game in the closing seconds of the third quarter. He finished with 10 for 176 yards.
Henderson’s 100-yard rushing game was his 11th in the past 14 games.