The bowl-hungry University of Memphis Tigers got what they wanted by stuffing the Lions of North Alabama with a 59-0 shutout at Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium on Saturday (Nov. 19).
The Tigers (6-5) rewarded the 24,154 on hand with a win that runs the string of bowl-eligible years to nine. It was the Tigers’ first shutout since 2015.
Next up for Memphis is a chance to improve their bowl position in a season-ending conference game against the SMU Mustangs (6-5).
North Alabama (1-10) was a made-to-order opponent for Senior Day. The Lions, who play their home games at Braly Municipal Stadium in Florence Alabama, compete in the NCAA Division I ASUN Conference and resided at the Division II level from 1972 to 2017.
“We will never take for granted going to a bowl game because half of the teams don’t,” said Memphis head coach Ryan Silverfield. “It shows the battle and willpower of our young men. We still have a lot of football left to play.”
Against the woefully overmatched Lions, Memphis’ offense looked great. The defense played a complete game and the special teams were, well, special.
Fast Eddie Lewis capped a spectacular 60-yard punt return by diving over the pylon for a touchdown that stood up to review. Lewis also had 3 catches for 73 yards and a touchdown.
“It was routine,” said Lewis of the punt return. “I trust the guys on the return, and I just ran it. I knew I scored.”
In the game dedicated to the team’s seniors, senior running back Asa Martin notched a 10-yard running touchdown.
“It meant a lot,” said Martin, providing context for what it meant for the senior class to show out. “It was a big day at the Liberty Bowl in front of this crowd one last time. It was a really good experience for us….”
Xavier “Zay” Cullens led the Tigers’ defense in his final game at Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium, totaling a game-high 10 tackles, a sack, a fumble recovery and a 54-yard interception return for a touchdown.
Quindell Johnson had four stops, two tackles for loss, a forced fumble and a team-leading fourth interception that prompted a team celebration.
“It is important to celebrate with the team because it (the interception) was not only me who had it, it was a team effort. Everyone else made it happen. … We all are going to celebrate together. We know we don’t have that much time left together,” said Johnson.
“Zay (Cullens) and me made a victory walk after the game. We jogged around the field. We wanted to take it all in. My emotions are everywhere; we just wanted to soak it all in.”
For Johnson, his favorite memory as a Tiger was what he called “the block at Tulsa in 2019. Without that one, we would not have had College Game Day here. That is something I cherish because you don’t get many of those. That is on the stat sheet.”
Before the game, Memphis recognized 17 student-athletes for Senior Day: Jaylon Allen, Xavier “Zay” Cullens, Matt Dale, Michael Denson, Joe Doyle, Wardalis Ducksworth, Ryan Glover, John Hassell, Chris Howard, Quindell Johnson, Asa Martin, Tyler Murray, Austin Myers, Sylvonta Oliver, Rodney Owens, Gabriel Rogers and Johnny Westbrook.
At halftime, Memphis retired former player Danton Barto’s number. Barto, who died from COVID in August 2021 at age 50, was a 2007 M-Club Hall of Fame inductee. He remains the school record-holder for career solo tackles (273) and career total tackles (473) and ranks second all-time with 200 assisted career tackles.
Former Tigers in the prestigious group of having their jerseys retired are John Bramlett (64), Isaac Bruce (83), Dave Casinelli (30), Charles Greenhill (8), Harry Schuh (79) and DeAngelo Williams (20).
And now Barto’s 59!