TULSA, Okla. — Memphis went on the road to take on the Tulsa Hurricanes for a pivotal conference game. The Tigers have one loss in the Western Division behind the SMU Mustangs. If the Tigers were to beat the Hurricanes, it would set up a Nov. 2 game that could determine the division champions.
And tough it took Tulsa missing a last-second field goal, the Tigers took the 42-41 win to defeat the Hurricanes in front of 17,183 fans.
“What a win,” said Tigers head coach Mike Norvell said after the win. “We knew coming in that was a talented team. I am so proud our guys continue to respond. They never lost hope and continued to fight until the end.”
The Tigers did not waste any time jumping on the Hurricanes, scoring twice within the first eight minutes of the game. Rising star RB Kenneth Gainwell punched it in from 20 yards out (7-0). The Tigers’ second touchdown came when Antonio Gibson completed a 40-yard reception and run after the catch.
From there, Memphis and Tulsa exchanged scoring drives. Shamari Brooks put Tulsa on the scoreboard with a 40-yard run. The Tigers’ Calvin Austin III answered with a 2-yard TD to make it 21-7.
Tulsa RB Corey Taylor II and the Hurricanes’ offensive line powered in a TD from the one-yard line (21-14), but Joey Magnifico made a beautiful 5-yard catch from Brady White in the corner of the endzone to give the Tigers a 28-14. Tulsa scored a field goal to make the halftime score 28-17.
The second half was controlled by Tulsa. The Hurricanes outscored Memphis 24-14 and controlled the offensive line of scrimmage. Tulsa won the time of possession battle 36:05 to Memphis 23:55. That is one of the reasons the defense of Tigers could not get off the field.
“There are some things we have to clean up,” Norvell said. “They were able to sustain some drives to keep our defense on the field.”
Tulsa did everything they needed to do to win the game except make that final field goal. They rushed for 275 yards, passed for 309 yards and captured two takeaways. Tulsa’s Brooks rushed for 156 yards on 36 attempts. QB Zach Smith completed 23 passes for 309 yards and one touchdown.
Meanwhile for Memphis, White played a very good game, completing 15 passes for 277 yards and two touchdowns. Gainwell scored two touchdowns in the second half. He rushed for 149 yards and had three rushing touchdowns. Gainwell is only 21 yards short of rushing for 1,000 yards on the season.
Damonte Coxie had five catches for 112 yards, none bigger than his late-game catch with less than five minutes to go. That play 59 yards set up the go-ahead touchdown by Gainwell.
But ultimately, it came down to Tulsa kicker Jacob Rainey missing from 29 yards out as the clock showed all zeros. The Memphis bench and fans who made the trip were ecstatic to get the win to set up a showcase game against SMU.
“I was dancing and hugging teammates,” White said of the missed kick. “I was confident. I am blessed to be here with this team. To have the camaraderie and connection that this team has. I know it wasn’t perfect, but our team responded on all three phases of the game.”
Next up, the Tigers welcome the No. 16 ranked SMU for a nationally televised game on ABC. Kickoff is at 6:30 p.m. on ABC. This will be the first time in the Norvell era that the Tigers will be on ABC in primetime. Still up in the air: whether ESPN’s College Gameday will broadcast from Tiger Lane next week. Stay tuned.