Memphis brought the fireworks with a trick play touchdown. But Houston dropped the final bomb on one of the AAC’s best rivalries.
Tigers wide receiver Gabe Rogers threw a trick play touchdown pass to running back Asa Martin to start the fourth quarter. But Houston’s Clayton Tune had the last touchdown pass to receiver KeSean Carter with 18 seconds left.
Houston’s 33-32 comeback win at Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium on Friday erased a 19-point fourth quarter deficit. It ended Memphis’ football rivalry with the Cougars with a stinging loss despite another thriller between the schools.
Here’s what we learned as the Tigers’ four-game winning streak ended in heartbreak.
Missed conversion looms large
Memphis (4-2, 2-1 AAC) was in control most of the game. But after Martin caught Rogers’ touchdown pass, the Tigers went for a two-point conversion and failed while leading 26-7 with 14:50 to go.
That failed attempt loomed large. The Tigers never scored another touchdown and Houston (3-3, 1-1) inched back into the game with a 26-12 rally. A 100-yard kick return touchdown by Jayce Rogers kept the Cougars close and then Tune connected with Carter for two fourth-quarter touchdowns in the final 1:17.
An onside kick recovered by Houston set up the final drive as the Cougars, who will be in the Big 12 next season, gave Memphis one last painful battle.
Gabe Rogers, Asa Martin show versatility
Rogers, who leads the Tigers in receiving yards, has yet to catch a touchdown this season. But the fifth-year senior now has a touchdown pass up there with the best that quarterback Seth Henigan has thrown this year.
Rogers’ arm was used on a similar trick play in the first half but his throw to Caden Prieskorn was high and out of bounds. The second try worked like a charm as Rogers threw a well-placed spiral to Martin, who fell down backwards in the end zone.
As for Martin, the catch showed why he leads the Tigers’ running backs in receiving yards despite being third on the depth chart. He’s second behind Rogers in all-purpose yards and his versatility came through Friday with the Tigers’ longest catch as well as their longest rushing play of the game (37 yards).
Great start wasted
After being held scoreless at halftime last week vs. Temple, Memphis responded with its highest scoring first quarter of the season. The Tigers had just two drives but both ended in touchdowns.
Memphis looked methodical and effective on its opening drive by taking six minutes, 13 seconds to score in 14 plays. It was the first opening scoring drive for the Tigers since Navy, the second game of the season, and as good as any drive the Tigers had all season
Caden Prieskorn had the first score on a 25-yard catch and Brandon Thomas added a second on a 3-yard rush. But Memphis’ offense could only muster one touchdown the rest of the way as Houston found breathing room
Tigers’ goal line stand adds to impressive feats
Houston had third-and-goal on the Tigers’ 1-yard line. Memphis turned the Cougars away twice, with Houston native Jaylon Allen credited with the fourth down stop.
It was the second consecutive drive Houston had inside the Memphis 5-yard line that ended with no points. The first came on a missed field goal but the Tigers’ goal-line stand added an impressive mark to a season where the defense has carried them.
It got receiver Joseph Scates off the hook for a fumble that started Houston’s drive. But the defense couldn’t stop Houston in the fourth quarter as the Cougars scored touchdowns on all three drives.
Quindell Johnson re-emerges
Quindell Johnson’s been quiet on the takeaway circuit although he broke up a pass last week that led to an interception by Xavier Cullens. Johnson re-introduced himself Friday with an interception on Houston’s second drive.
It was Johnson’s third interception of the season, which ties his season-best mark that he set in 2020. Through six games, Johnson’s lived up to expectations as a playmaker and the Tigers capitalized on his takeaway by scoring on a 25-yard touchdown catch by Caden Prieskorn.
Yet there wasn’t much to celebrate. Memphis suffered its first home loss of the season and the schedule gets tougher on the road at East Carolina next week and at Tulane the following week.