MONROE, La. – Just when it appeared as if Louisiana Monroe was going to challenge the University of Memphis until the final seconds Saturday, the 23rd-ranked Tigers struck quickly – two touchdowns in nine seconds – to eliminate any upset chances.
After the Warhawks had scored with 6:31 remaining to trim the Memphis lead to six points (39-33), the UofM answered in impressive fashion. Running back Kenneth Gainwell broke free for a 68-yard touchdown run and, nine seconds later, defensive back La’Andre Thomas picked off a ULM pass tipped at the line of scrimmage and raced 33 yards to the end zone.
Although the fourth quarter may have been too close at one point for Memphis coach Mike Norvell’s comfort, the Tigers explosive finish gave them a 52-33 victory in their final non-conference game of the season.
Memphis improved to 5-0 by amassing 535 total yards, including 286 on the ground. Tigers quarterback Brady White completed 15 of 23 passes for 249 yards and three touchdowns, while Gainwell finished with 209 yards on 14 carries
A productive UofM offense offset the firepower of ULM (2-3). The Warhawks gained 575 total yards, including 319 passing, 286 from quarterback Caleb Evans. Evans (112) and running back Josh Johnson (119) each rushed for more than 100 yards.
“That was a good offense, but we did enough things good to win that game,” Norvell said.
Ahead by 12 at the half, the Tigers got a 50-yard field goal from Riley Patterson and a 50-yard touchdown reception from Antonio Gibson in the third quarter to extend their lead to 19 points (39-20) midway through the period.
ULM’s Evans broke free for a 45-yard scoring run with 3:11 to go in the quarter to make it 39-26. And a 36-yard pass from Evans to tight end Josh Pederson trimmed the Memphis lead to three points midway through the final quarter before the Tigers recovered to pull away.
“I’m happy for our guys,” Norvell said. “We went out and did what we had to do. They showed their heart and their character and finished the game.”
The Tigers wasted little time setting the tone for the afternoon. They scored on four of their first five possessions in the opening half to take a 29-10 lead late in the second quarter.
Memphis got first-half scores from Damonte Coxie (5-yard reception), Gainwell (40-yard run), Kameron Wilson (2-yard reception) and Kylan Watkins (14-yard run). White passed for 189 of his yards in the opening 30 minutes.
ULM spent the final five minutes of the first half trying to close the gap. Pederson, son of Philadelphia Eagles head coach Doug Pederson, caught a 6-yard scoring pass from Evans to make it 29-17 with 1:40 to go. But the Warhawks’ attempt to make it a nine-point game at the half was thwarted by the Tigers, who blocked a 50-yard field goal attempt by ULM’s Jared Porter as the half ended.
The Tigers had 339 yards at halftime, a fairly even mix of passing yards (189) and rushing yards (150).
Memphis resumes play in The American next weekend at Temple.