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Pick-six gives Houston a 21-17 lead on Memphis in AAC West-deciding game

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A trip to the AAC Championship Game is on the line in Memphis this afternoon, and the Houston Cougars are looking to play their way into it after erasing a double-digit deficit in the second quarter to take a lead into halftime. Gleson Sprewell‘s 63-yard interception return for a touchdown off Memphis quarterback Brady White gave Houston a 21-17 lead. Houston had been down 17-7 just minutes before. Sprewell struck again with a second interception that prevented a Memphis touchdown in the final 20 seconds of the half.

After missing three of the last four games due to a knee injury, star defensive lineman Ed Oliver returned to the football field for the Houston Cougars Friday afternoon. And whether it was a coincidence or not, the Houston defense set the tone early on the road against Memphis. Memphis went three-and-out on each of their first two drives and the Tigers were stuck playing a battle of field position early on.

With the offense pinned just outside their own goal line, Memphis took advantage of a Houston defense that was forced to play without Oliver, who was having a helmet issue corrected on the sideline. Patrick Taylor rushed for a gain of 57 yards to the Houston 34-yard line on a 3rd & 2, and a 15-yard facemask penalty on Houston moved the football all the way to the Houston 19-yard line. Despite having an excellent chance to put points on the board, Memphis would have to settle for a field goal from the Houston 18-yard line.

Memphis took a 17-7 lead with touchdowns on each of their next two offensive drives, which started with a defensive stand that forced a Houston turnover on downs at the Memphis 25-yard line. Taylor capped the first touchdown drive with a run to the end zone from seven yards and quarterback Brady Whtie completed a nine-yard pass to Joey Magnifico for the 10-point lead.

Houston started the game playing aggressively through the air with Clayton Tune, who has taken over the offense in the absence of an injured D’Eriq King. Houston took to the air multiple times on their first offensive series, and Tune was fortunate not to have thrown an interception on a few plays the Memphis defenders would likely love to get a seconds chance at catching. The inability to force an early turnover would cost Memphis as Tune completed a 33-yard touchdown lob to Terry Mark on a free play (Memphis was offside on the play).

Tune helped the Cougars cut into the Memphis lead in the second quarter by extending a play with his legs and then finding a wide-open Keith Corbin in the back of the end zone for a score. The touchdown drive came after a much-needed strong defensive stand by the Cougars.

We have a ball game in the Liberty Bowl with the stakes as high as they can get in the AAC West. Winner gets to play UCF next week in the AAC Championship Game.

No. 10 UCF overcomes Memphis’ 16-point lead, extends nation’s longest winning streak to 19

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On the same day Scott Frost‘s new team extended a lengthy losing streak, his old team saw their extended winning streak continue — barely.

Very late in the second quarter, No. 10 UCF trailed Memphis by 16 at 30-14.  Over the next two quarters, the Knights overcame both that deficit and a steady downpour to top the Tigers 31-30 in Memphis Saturday afternoon.

UCF has now won a school-record 19 straight games, with its last loss coming in the 2016 Cure Bowl on Dec. 17 of that year.  Only one other FBS team currently has a double-digit winning streak — No. 3 Ohio State, winners of 12 straight after getting past Minnesota this afternoon.

A Taj McGovern 71-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter pulled the Knights to within six at 30-24.  Five minutes later, the Knights saw its first lead since midway through the first quarter as quarterback McKenzie Milton scored from seven yards out to make the score 31-30 with 12:14 remaining.

With under seven minutes left in the game, Darrell Henderson‘s 32-yard touchdown run was wiped out by a penalty; a sack on the next play pushed the Tigers out of field-goal range and forced them to punt.  On the ensuing possession, the Knights picked up a pair of first downs before going for it on a fourth-and-two from their own 40-yard line to keep the drive alive with under three minutes remaining.  While they didn’t get much further, they did bleed time off the clock and forced Memphis to use their remaining timeouts.

A punt gave the Tigers the ball one final time at their own 15-yard line with 1:09 remaining and no timeouts.  A 31-yard hookup between Brady White and Damonte Coxie moved the ball out to U of M’s 46-yard line; another White completion, this one for 19 yards to Sean Dykes, put the Tigers in field-goal range at the Knight’s 35-yard line.  However, a five-yard penalty and 10-second runoff (that was crucial) pushed them out.

A completion in-bounds on the next play bled the final seconds off the clock and kept UCF’s streak alive.

With UCF’s win and No. 2 Georgia’s loss, there are now 10 undefeated teams at the FBS level — No. 1 Alabama, No. 3 Ohio State, No. 4 Clemson, No. 5 Notre Dame, No. 6 West Virginia, No. 10 UCF, No. 19 Colorado, No. 20 North Carolina State, No. 23 USF and No. 25 Cincinnati.  The Buckeyes, Fighting Irish and Bulls have already won in Week 7, while the Crimson Tide, Mountaineers and Buffaloes play tonight.  The Tigers, Wolfpack and Bearcats are on their off weekend.

WATCH: Memphis head coach Mike Norvell surprises walk-on with scholarship at community service event

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Memphis defensive lineman Joseph Dorceus thought he was accompanying Tigers head coach Mike Norvell to a community service event at a Memphis restaurant.

Turns out, Dorceus was the evening’s honoree, as Norvell surprised the walk-on with a scholarship.

Norvell surprised Dorceus, a walk-on, with a scholarship

“The work that you put in, and everything you mean to not only me, but our football program, and today all these people are here celebrating you, because now you are officially on a full scholarship here at the University of Memphis,” Norvell said.

A redshirt sophomore from Spring, Texas, Dorceus appeared in 11 games and collected 16 tackles with one sack and five TFLs in 2017. His older brother, Doroland Dorceus, played for Memphis from 2013-17.

Iowa State completes stellar season by corralling No. 20 Memphis in Liberty Bowl

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Iowa State survived an ill-timed, controversial fumble and harassed Memphis quarterback Riley Ferguson throughout a cold, windy afternoon to score a 21-20 upset of No. 20 Memphis on its home field in the Liberty Bowl.

The win capped off an ascendant season for Matt Campbell and his program, ending a string of six straight losing seasons with an 8-5 campaign — the Cyclones’ most wins since 2000 — that included three victories over ranked opponents.

Iowa State started the game in a Memphis-like fashion, accepting the ball to open the game and scoring on a 52-yard bomb from Kyle Kempt to Hakeem Butler. The Cyclones had a chance to take a 14-0 lead, driving to the Memphis 39-yard line, but a botched punt snap gave the Tigers the ball at the Iowa State 40 and the Tigers capitalized in two Ferguson passes. The first went 30 yards to Tony Pollard and the second 10 to Anthony Miller for the tying score, a grab that tied West Virginia’s David Sills for a national-best 18 touchdown receptions.

Memphis (10-3) missed on two opportunities to take the lead. First, Riley Patterson missed a 38-yard field goal at the tail end of the first quarter, and then Ferguson was sacked on a 4th-and-8 at the Iowa State 37 to open the second quarter. Iowa State took advantage of that momentum with a 12-play, 6-minute touchdown drive that was extended after a Kempt interception in the end zone was overturned upon review. Given new life, Campbell elected to go for a 4th-and-5 from the Memphis 30 and converted on a 12-yard completion to Allen Lazard. The Cyclones re-claimed the lead four plays later on a 2-yard Joel Lanning rush.

Iowa State had a chance to push its lead to two scores late in the half, driving to the Memphis 24, but Kempt was sacked on a 3rd-and-10 and Garrett Owens‘s 51-yard field goals sailed (way, way) wide left with 1:18 to play. Kempt connected on 15-of-26 passes for 195 yards and a touchdown in the half.

Memphis responded by driving for a 34-yard Patterson field goal as time expired in the half, then grabbed its first lead on a 36-yard toss from Ferguson to Phil Mayhue.

The Cyclones went back in front later in the third quarter, but not without significant help — again. Facing a 2nd-and-7 at the Memphis 9, Kempt was intercepted at the goal line by Curtis Akins, who returned the ball all the way to the 24. But the pick was overturned by a roughing the passer call — and a fortunate one at that — and Kempt nailed Lazard for a 5-yard touchdown two plays later, see-sawing Iowa State back in front at 21-17 with 4:28 left in the third quarter. Lazard closed his record-setting career with 10 grabs (tying a Liberty Bowl record) for 142 yards and a touchdown, while Kempt hit 24-of-38 passes for 314 yards and two touchdowns.

After a short kickoff game Memphis the ball at its own 38, Memphis moved swiftly into Iowa State territory to set up Patterson’s second field goal, a 30-yarder that pulled the Tigers within 21-20.

The teams traded punt on their next possessions, but an advantage in the field position battle gave Iowa State the ball at the Memphis 45 with 11:05 to play in the game. The Cyclones successfully pulled off a choke-the-life-out-of-’em drive, consuming seven minutes and 23 seconds and moving to the Memphis 1 before the sure-handed David Montgomery fumbled the ball into the Memphis end zone, which was recovered by the Tigers’ Jonathan Cook. The play was (of course) reviewed and upheld, meaning the Cyclones’ first lost fumble of the entire season came at the worst possible time.

Memphis took over at its own 20 with 3:50 to play and appeared to go three-and-out, but a pass interference call on Iowa State’s Brian Peavy bailed the Tigers out with a first down instead of a punt. Ferguson drove Memphis to the Iowa State 40 with more than two minutes remaining and two timeouts in his pocket, but fired four straight incomplete passes to give the ball back to Iowa State with 1:52 to play. Lanning converted a 2nd-and-7 with a 9-yard rush, securing a game-clinching first down to salt away Iowa State’s first bowl win since 2009.

Ferguson completed his collegiate career with an effective 21-of-33 passing for 256 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions, but he was sacked six times.

Memphis senior WR Sam Craft out for the 2017 season due to torn ACL

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Memphis senior Sam Craft will not play football in 2017 after suffering a torn ACL during a practice earlier in the week. Memphis head coach Mike Norvellconfirmed the unfortunate injury news to reporters Saturday.

I absolutely hate it for the young man. He’s one of my favorites,” Norvell said following a scrimmage on Saturday, according to The Commerical Appeal. “He came in, had an incredible offseason, was having a great camp. And then just on a, basically a route on air, took a misstep. Definitely, our thoughts are with him.”

Craft appeared in four games in 2016 and caught 10 passes for 126 yards and a touchdown. He missed a chance for more playing time after suffering a hamstring injury at the end of fall camp. He also had a back injury bring his 2016 season to an early end. Craft recently made a position change form running back to wide receiver this year, and his work as a wide receiver was praised by Memphis quarterback Riley Ferguson.

“He was having an unbelievable camp. He was one of our best receivers, I would say,” Ferguson told reporters, again according to The Commercial Appeal. “My prayers go out to him. He’s still our brother. He’s still going to be with us throughout the whole process. It just hurts not being able to have him there.”

Craft was entering his fifth year of eligibility. It remains unknown at this time if he and Memphis will apply for a waiver for a sixth year from the NCAA. Given his injury history at Memphis, he would seemingly stand a decent chance of getting another year from the NCAA.