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Tigers’ stunning loss brings heartbreaking end to 15-game winning streak

<p>Former Tigers’ football coach Justin Fuente won an AAC Championship and led Memphis to a 19-6 record over the past two seasons.</p>
Former Tigers’ football coach Justin Fuente won an AAC Championship and led Memphis to a 19-6 record over the past two seasons.

It’s been coming.

The slow starts, the alarming number of penalties and a lackluster defense had shown the 2015 Memphis Tiger football team had flaws, but it had always been able to overcome them. Whether it was against then-No. 13 Ole Miss or the lowly Kansas Jayhawks.

That is, until the Navy Midshipmen marched into the Bluff City.

But even then, it wasn’t supposed to end like this. Not to Navy, and most certainly not a 45-20 beatdown that was every bit a reflection of the Midshipmen’s dominance of the No. 13 Tigers Saturday night. It was also far from the ideal way for Memphis to end its incredible streak of 393 days without defeat.

The defeat came in arguably the easiest game of a three-game stretch that is ultimately going to define the Memphis’ 2015 season.

And of course, the blowout loss occurred in front of the largest crowd for a conference game ever with more than 55,000 fans cheering on the Tigers at the Liberty Bowl.

After Memphis’ opening touchdown drive, one that took four plays, 85 yards and 81 seconds, it looked as if the Tigers had avoided another slow start.

However, it was nothing more than a mirage. While penalties played little part in Memphis’ defeat, Navy, nevertheless, tied the game on its next possession.

The Tigers retook the lead on their following drive and tied the game at 17 midway through the third quarter, but the Midshipmen were in complete control of the game. That was only further solidified when Navy ended the game on a 28-3 scoring run.

The resiliency Memphis had shown throughout its 15-game winning streak was nowhere to be found Saturday. The Tiger defense could not find any answers to Midshipmen quarterback Keenan Reynolds and the triple option offense.

Paxton Lynch and the Tiger offense, like they had done so many times during the Tigers’ winning streak, could not bail Memphis out once again. Navy’s defense was simply too good, and the clock finally ran out on the Tigers.

There will be no more talk of Memphis being in the College Football Playoff. Memphis' chances of playing in the American Athletic Conference Championship Game is in serious jeopardy now – much less hosting it.

That’s how crushing and season-changing tonight’s loss is.

That’s how quickly things change in the college football universe.

Now Memphis will embark on an important two-game road trip against nationally ranked Houston and Temple, though the excitement level won’t be nearly the same after tonight’s performance.

Regardless of how the rest of the season plays out, there will always be the feeling of “what if” for the 2015 Memphis Tigers now. That doesn’t mean their season is an automatic failure – it’s not— far from it actually.

The fact that Memphis’ first defeat nine games into the season is heartbreaking is a testament to how far this team and program has come in two seasons.

But right now, heartbreak, depression and sadness are common symptoms following tonight’s loss.

Though if Memphis football has shown anything in the past two seasons, it’s a resilient team and program. Justin Fuente is one of the most sought after coaches in the country for a reason, and Lynch is still a projected NFL first-round draft pick. One game doesn’t change that.

However, starting next week against the Cougars, Memphis, Fuente, Lynch and the team’s resiliency will be put to the test more than ever.

Former Tigers’ football coach Justin Fuente won an AAC Championship and led Memphis to a 19-6 record over the past two seasons.

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