Friday, November 25, 2016

Houston Cougars fall to Memphis Tigers 48-44 in hard-fought contest

Houston WR Linner Bonner (15) tries to pull away
from Memphis DB Jonathan Cook (14) after catching
one of his 17 passes against Memphis.
Photo by Darla Tamulitis-La Vita Loca Photography
Copyright 2016, All Rights Reserved
By Robert H Kelly
Copyright 2016 TexSport Publications

MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE (November 25, 2016) Bringing a number 18 national ranking and the winningest senior class in program history into Libertly Bowl Memorial Stadium was not enough for the Houston Cougars, as they dropped a 48-44 decision to the underdog Memphis Tigers on Friday, November 25, 2016. The Cougars finish the regular season with a 9-3 record; along with a 5-3 record in American Athletic Conference action. The Cougars will now wait for two crucial bits of information in the days to follow. First, what post-season bowl game they will be invited to play and second, whether head coach Tom Herman will be back at the helm of the Cougars for that anticipated bowl and the 2017 season.

Rumors circulated in the preceding days and hours leading up to Friday's matchup against these two conference rivals. Unconfirmed reports surfaced on the internet and social media that Herman and LSU had come to terms on a contract for the second-year head coach to lead the Tigers in 2017. Herman vigorously denounced the rumors, yet the spectre of his departure was a possibly a factor in the Cougars' loss. The Cougars' play of the field seemed uninspired in the first half and was a drastic departure from their play when they upset No. 3 Louisville on November 17. 

RB Duke Catalon (2) rushed for 60 yards and
one touchdown in addition to catching seven
passes for 41 yards against Memphis.

Photo by Darla Tamulitis-La Vita Loca Photography
Copyright 2016, All Rights Reserved
The game started with a bang for the Tigers; when they scored 42 seconds into the game on a 67-yard pass from Riley Ferguson to Phil Mayhue. Houston answered three minutes later with a 41-yard Ty Cummings field goal. Memphis added two more TDs in the first quarter; a one-yard run by Doroland Dorceus and a two-yard pass from Ferguson to Mayhue. In between the two Memphis touchdown, Houston added a touchdown on a 10-yard run by Duke Catalon to close out the first 15 minutes of play with Memphis leading 21-10. The Cougars cut the Memphis lead to four points, six seconds into the second quarter with a Greg Ward, Jr. 29-yard pass to Tyler McCloskey. The Tigers responded with 13 unanswered points to give Memphis a 34-17 lead at halftime. Houston cut their deficit to seven in the third quarter with a Chance Allen 35-yard touchdown pass reception and a 25-yard Ty Cummings field goal. After a long drive that carried over from the third to fourth quarter, Houston added a 25-yard field goal by Cummings to cut the Tigers' lead to 34-30 with 13:07 remaining in the game. They finally took their first lead of the game at the 7:02 mark in the fourth quarter when Ward, Jr. hit Linell Donner with a 55-yard bomb for the score. Cummings added the extra point to give Houston a 37-34 lead. Then both teams went on a offensive frenzy; putting 21 points on the scoreboard in three minutes, 30 seconds.

Memphis responded to the Donner touchdown with their own touchdown to regain the lead a tad over three minutes later. Ferguson connected with Anthony Miller on a 35-yard pass play to regain a four-point lead (41-37). Houston received the the kickoff with 3:49 left in the game; driving 75 yards in seven plays; concluding with a three-yard touchdown pass from Ward, Jr. to Allen to regain the lead with the score of 44-41. The Tigers received the final kickoff of the game on their own 28 yard line with 1:29 remaining. Ferguson then went to work and moved the ball 72 yards in 1:05; scoring the game winning touchdown with 19 seconds left in the match. After that, all Houston could was run three play before time ran out.

Houston fans were very spirited at
Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.
Photo by Darla Tamulitis-La Vita Loca Photography
Copyright 2016, All Rights Reserved
Offensively, Houston tallied 624 yards of total offense, with Ward, Jr. accounting for 487 yards of those yards in the air. With four passing touchdowns, he has 52 career passing touchdowns which stands fifth in program history. Ward also recorded his seventh multi-TD passing game of 2016 and 16th of his career. 

Linell Bonner recorded his third touchdown reception this season and eighth of his career, on a 55-yard pass from Ward Jr. with 7:02 left to play giving Houston its first lead, 37-34. With 235 yards, Bonner finished his sixth game with at least 80-plus yards and became the 20th player in program history with a 200-yard receiving game. The mark also put him over the 1,000 yard threshold for the season, becoming the 19th player in Houston history to reach that mark.

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