MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP)—In a season filled with disappointing losses, the University of Memphis avoided just that Saturday night.
University of Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch passed for 189 yards and a score and ran in a touchdown as the Tigers held off UT-Martin, 21-6, Saturday night at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.
U of M senior running back Brandon Hayes added 111 yards on 27 carries, which included several key first-down runs late in the fourth quarter.
”I’m happy we got the win,” University of Memphis coach Justin Fuente. ”I’m glad we could learn about how to battle through tight games. I’m glad we could get it done.”
With 7:56 left in the game and the Tigers clinging to a 7-6 lead, Lynch faked a handoff and found senior running back Brandon Hayes in the flat, who galloped into the end zone untouched.
Lynch also scored on a six-yard scamper with time dwindling in the second quarter was the difference for Memphis (2-6), which snapped a four-game losing streak.
Both teams struggled to establish any sort of pace offensively until the Tigers put together a nine-play, 82-yard fourth-quarter drive that sapped precious time off the clock. Memphis finished with 347 yards offense.
Freshman receiver Sam Craft played a large part in the awakening of the offense. He reeled in a 26-yard pass over the middle with under 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter as the Tigers clung to a one-point lead.
Craft sealed the game on an 8-yard run with 2:57 remaining, which made the score 21-6. He finished with 83 yards receiving.
”You get a kid like Sam, who can keep his wits about him throughout the game,” Fuente said. ”He’s very competitive.”
For UT-Martin, running back Abou Toure became the first player to run for 100 yards on the improved Tigers defense with 113 yards on 17 carries, but it wasn’t enough as the Skyhawks failed to turn the yardage into points. It was also Toure’s first career 100-yard game.
Skyhawks quarterback Jarod Neal was 6-of-16 for 105 yards as UT-Martin relied almost exclusively on its running game. The Skyhawks piled up 164 yards on the ground against Memphis.
Neal threw a costly interception in the fourth quarter.
Though Memphis escaped with the win, UT-Martin certainly had its chances. Skyhawks kicker Jackson Redditt had two field goals hit the left upright, leaving six valuable points behind.
”We’ll take it any way we can get it,” Fuente said.
It came with some gray-hair-inducing quarterback play. Lynch, who was inconsistent through the air with one interception, compensated for his up-and-down play with his legs. On the Tigers’ second scoring drive, the 6-foot-6 signal caller spun off a tackler in the backfield and lumbered to the Skyhawks’ 13-yard-line for a 24-yard gain.
Lynch’s scramble would set up the Tigers’ second touchdown of the night, a 9-yard screen pass to Hayes.
”This really helps morale in the locker room,” Hayes said. ”The older guys can keep preaching to the younger guys. We came late, but we put it together.”
On the ensuing drive, UT-Martin finally came up with a play through the air when Neal found receiver Jeremy Butler down the sideline for a 37-yard gain.
But the next play, Neal - with pressure coming from the Memphis defensive lineman - threw an interception to a back-pedaling Anthony Watson.
UT-Martin, which held a 6-0 lead over Memphis for most of the first half, would not threaten for the rest of the game.