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Tigers catapult to No. 25 after overcoming Navy

UofM players and fans rejoice after the Tigers stopped Navy. (Photo: Warren Roseborough)

The second win this year against a Top 25 program and the first-ever victory of Navy boosted the University of Memphis Tigers to the No. 25 spot in the Associated Press Top 25 rankings.

The 30-27 defeat of the Midshipmen delighted fans at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium on Saturday. The Tigers last were ranked in the AP poll on Nov. 8, 2015.

The defense of the Tigers held Navy to 359 total yards, more than 100 yards under Navy’s average. In prior meetings, the Tigers had much difficulty defending the triple option of the Midshipmen. On Saturday, the UofM  defense forced three fumbles and had two interceptions.

The game started oddly for the Tigers. On the opening kickoff the football took an odd bounce and Navy recovered on the Tigers’ 10-yard line and had it first and goal from there. The defense held Navy to a field goal and Navy took an early 3-0 lead.

Anthony Miller and Darrel Henderson celebrate a touchdown. (Photo: Warren Roseborough)

The Tigers were not fazed, taking the ensuing possession 75 yards. Quarterback Riley Ferguson found wide receiver Anthony Miller for a 5-yard touchdown. The drive was sparked by a 32-yard run by Darrell Henderson.

Navy struck back when quarterback Zack Abey scored on a one-yard keeper to give the Midshipmen a 10-7 lead. That drive was kept alive when Darryl Bonner from the 40-yard line of the Tigers rushed for six yards on a fourth and three.

With 1:33 left in the first half, UofM kicker Riley Patterson missed a 42-yard field goal attempt. After a fumble because of a bad pitch by Abey, Patterson had a chance for redemption and connected on a 30-yard field goal to tie the game at 10 with 41 seconds left in the first half.

Sophomore defensive back Austin Hall made his mark all day for the Tigers. Hall, a 5’9” former Collierville High School Dragon, picked off an Abey pass 18 seconds into the second half. Hall also had 10 tackles, including 7 solo tackles.

The Tigers capitalized on the turnover when Ferguson found Henderson for a 10-yard touchdown reception, giving  the Tigers the lead again (17-10) just 45 seconds into the second half.

On the second of Ferguson’s intentional grounding penalties, Navy netted a two-point  safety because the penalty occurred in the end zone. Abey give Navy the lead once again after he ended an eight-yard run in the end zone. That made it 19-17 with 7:30 left in the third quarter.

Patterson put the Tigers back in front with a 42-yard field goal. When Ferguson hit Miller on an eight-yard touchdown, the Tigers’ lead grew to 27-19. Patterson added another 42-yard field goal to extend the gap to 30-19.

The Tigers appeared were in complete control of the game and were driving to put the game out of reach. However, Henderson fumbled and Sean Williams recovered the loose football on the 18-yard line of the Midshipmen with 6:34 left in the game.

Navy took advantage of the Henderson mistake and scored on a one-yard keeper by Abey. Navy went for two, scoring on a three-yard run by Bonner, cutting the Tigers’ lead to 30-27 with 3:25 left in the game.

A Tigers’ drive stalled at the Midshipmen 44-yard line, but Navy was forced to use all of their timeouts during the drive. The Tigers punted with 1:34 left in the game.

On the first play of the Navy drive, Hall  intercepted a pass by Abey to secure the win for the Tigers.

Ferguson had a solid game for the Tigers. He did not force the action and finished with 279 passing yards with three touchdowns. Miller had 10 receptions for 90 yards and two touchdowns. This is the eighth time Miller had a game with at least 10 receptions. Henderson finished the game with 94 rushing yards.

The Tigers will not have much time to savor the victory over (Navy 5-1, 3-1 American Athletic Conference.) The Tigers (5-1, 2-1) in the American Athletic Conference will travel to play the Houston Cougars on Thursday October 19. The game can be seen on ESPN.

The victory for the Tigers extends their home winning streak over top 25 opponents to four. Houston will be in a bad mood when they face the Tigers. The Tigers defeated the Cougars last season at the Liberty Bowl when they were ranked last year. The Cougars were upset this weekend by a one-win Tulsa team 45-17.

Austin Hall 

On his interceptions:   “It means as much to me as it does for the team. Takeaways are big for us. Whatever I can do to give us a W with the two takeaways. We also had five turnovers total. Our defense stepped up today. It motivates us to get better. We want to be the best defense in the nation, whatever it takes to do that.”

Riley Ferguson 

“It is a blessing to be where we are, to beat two top 25 teams this point in a season. This is the first time we have ever beaten Navy. It is huge for the Memphis Tigers. All of our goals ahead of us are obtainable. We have to stay focused and go one week at a time, don’t worry about who we are playing just go out and play our best game every single week.”

Head coach Mike Norvell

“What a great game. I’m so proud of our football team. The way they came out and battled. We knew it would be a 60-minute ball game against an undefeated top 25 ranked program and we needed every second of it. The way that our kids have continued to respond. The way they prepared this week, might have been the best week of preparation we have had since I have been here. Their mind set is continuing to grow.

“Every player truly bought into what we were trying to accomplish to slow down that Navy offense. It was an unbelievable effort by the defense. This is a big win for us. This is a game we had circled. This is a program defining game, because that football team we just played is pure class. It is discipled, its talented. They are the defending Western Divisional Champions and we knew this game would give us a wonderful understanding of where we are and where we can go.

“We did not play did not play a perfect game. We some things we need to clean up and we have a short time to do that, having to go back on the road on Thursday. This was a benchmark game for us. This is one we had to win in order for us to go where we want to go. Our kids have stayed focus to the things on hand.”

Navy players salute the crowd and the attending officers after the game. (Photo: Warren Roseborough)


Head coach Mike Norvell had the Tigers fired up and ready for the battle against Navy. (Photo: Warren Roseborough)

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