Thursday’s American Conference clash ends with a Memphis win over Navy 35-24. The Tigers were led by a second half explosion of offense and a disrupting defense. Redshirt freshman Kenneth Gainwell had another start at tailback and made the most of the lead carries. He finished the game with 14 carries 104 yards and one touchdown. Head coach Mike Norvell after the game spoke to the media about tonight’s performance.
“They came out and played an incredible game, had a great plan against us,” Norvell said. “Our kids would not be denied, and I think that speaks volumes to where we are, but also gives us a great sense of encouragement of where we can be.”
On the first play of the game, the Midshipmen took the carry 41 yards on an end-around play. Later in that drive, Navy quarterback Malcolm Perry would score the opening touchdown for the game.
Shortly after the away team’s points, Memphis took their first carry 75 yards and to the end zone. Running back Kenneth Gainwell took 12 seconds to strike back and tied the game 7-7 with nine minutes left in the first quarter.
Two punts followed after two explosive drives by each team. Navy’s third drive went right back down the field and scored on a passing touchdown, which is something they hardly ever do. After a missed point the score was 13-7 in favor of the away team. The visitors had the ball almost 13 minutes in that first quarter.
Memphis started the second quarter with a holding penalty and loss of yardage, so they had to punt the ball again to Navy. Few plays later the defense by the home team came away with a fumble recovery at midfield.
The Tigers drove the ball all the way to the red zone with only quarterback Brady White giving the Midshipmen the ball back on a fumble. Navy would take that turnover and scored again stretching the lead to 20-7.
Following the score by the Midshipmen, Tigers’ return man Gabriel Rogers took the kickoff 99 yards to the house, and the home team responded quickly to bring the deficit down 20-14.
The first half ended with bad play calls by Memphis while also missing a 55-yard field goal. Navy took the ball and drove it all the way to the Tigers' 30-yard line and tried a 46-yard field goal and missed it as well. Memphis would go into half down by six.
After halftime, Memphis set up shop at the opponent’s side of the 50-yard line and the offense came away with no points. White missed a wide-open receiver down field and then got sacked.
Memphis created just the second three-and-out on Navy shortly thereafter and got the ball back to their offense. The Tigers created a drive this time and came away with seven points with a White 5-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Kedarian Jones. The home team would take the lead 21-20.
After the score, the Memphis defense would start to show why they are a top defense with a tackle for loss by linebacker Xaiver Cullens, and the first sack of the game by defensive lineman Wardalis Ducksworth.
The best throw by far from White in this game came with three mintues to go in the third when he hit wide receiver Antonio Gibson for a 73-yard touchdown pass. Gibson burned right through the defense, made the catch and sprinted to the endzone. He spoke with media after the game and talked about the chemistry between him and White.
“All week we wasn’t connecting on it, but by gameday we connected, “Gibson said. “One on one match-up and I had to win.”
The fourth quarter came, and Navy was knocking on the door, but the Memphis defense stood tall and forced a 49- yard field goal to bring the score to 28-23 with 12 minutes remaining in the game.
Memphis set up shop at their own 41-yard line thanks to a nice return by Gibson. Four plays later, White would get his third touchdown of the game, and this time he connected 31 yards to wide receiver Damonte Coxie. White and Coxie would link up for just the first time all season, and the Memphis lead grew to 35-23.
After that score by the Tigers, the game would start to slow down as both teams traded punts. Navy would get the ball back with 4:17 remaining, and ultimately turned the ball over with a Memphis interception by linebacker Sanchez Blake. That would end the game and Memphis would win 35-23 and get their first AAC win of the season.
“I thought about it, but I knew the situation and I just got down,” Blake Jr. said when asked about if he wanted to run an interception back.
After getting their first win in the AAC, Memphis will hit the road in their final non-conference battle with Louisiana-Monroe. Kick-off is set for 2:45 p.m. CT Saturday October 5.