After two blowout wins over Bethune-Cookman (56-14) and Arkansas State (37-3), the Tigers of Memphis took on a more potent opponent in the Midshipmen of Navy Thursday night. A conference battle turned out to be more of a battle than most would have thought. When it was all said and done, Navy made sure that Memphis knew they came to play.
One of the things you know when you play the Midshipmen is that they are going to bring a potent running game and this game was no different. But it would be the Tigers that would strike first following a Navy punt. On first and ten from their own 31, QB Seth Henigan would hit Blake Watson for 21 yards. On the drive, he would go 5-8 for 66 yards. His last completion of the drive would set up a Blake Watson seven-yard run to make it 7-0 Tigers. An impressive 13-play 90-yard drive that appeared to have set the tone early for Memphis.
But the Midshipmen would not be deterred one bit and were determined to make this a game. After a touchback, they took over at their own 25-yard line. QB Tai Lavatai ran the vintage triple option to the right and pitched the ball to RB Alex Tecza. Tecza would hit the hole and go virtually untouched for a 75-yard touchdown to tie the score at 7-7. The play was made possible by the failure of Memphis to hold the edge on a play they knew would come and come often. It was also the first offensive touchdown allowed by Memphis this year.
After forcing Memphis to a three-and-out, Navy would take over at their own 23. Once again the running game would do what they do best, move the football. A Daba Fofana 19-yard run, and two runs of nine and 30 yards by Tecza put Navy on the Tigers 16-yard line. Lavati would finish off the drive hitting Regis Velez for the score and just like that, Memphis was down 14-7. With 1:14 to go in the first quarter, Tecza already had 114 yards on the ground.
For the rest of the half, the teams would trade punts along with a Navy fumble. One thing was very clear, the Midshipmen would not go quietly this past Thursday. With 5:05 left in the half, Navy would drive the ball to the Memphis 44 and decide to go for it on fourth and one. It was pretty much a given that Tecza would get the rick and that he did. But on this carry the Tigers’ defense would stop him for no gain and take over with 1:19 to go in the half. Henigan would move his team down the field going 7-7 for 61 and a seven-yard strike to Roc Taylor with 23 seconds left to tie the game at 14-14.
Memphis would take the ball 47 yards on seven plays and take the lead back to open the third quarter. The key play of the drive was a 31-yard completion from Henigan to Taylor on a third and seven to set up first-and-goal at the one. Henigan would take it in from there and Memphis had a 21-14 lead. That lead would be short-lived as Navy came right back to tie the score on an Anton Hall run from two yards out.
The most telling story of this game was that both teams were fighting on every pay. Emotions were running high and for Memphis, it was an opponent that would not go away. For Navy, it was a chance to end a four-game losing streak to a conference rival. There were many battles in the trenches that were wearing on both teams. So now, in the heat of the moment, with the fourth quarter looming, one of the teams needed to find that extra gear if they were to come out the victor in this one.
Memphis would retake the lead and Navy would answer with a field goal to make it 28-24 Memphis with 7:09 to go. The next four possessions would not go as any team had planned. The two teams would trade fumbles and with a chance to end the game, the Tigers would commit the biggest turnover of the game. On third and 11 from the Navy 44, Henigan would be picked off and the stage was set for an emotional finish.
Navy would get the ball on their won 49 and move the ball down to the Memphis 36. After a timeout, a Tecza 12-yard run put the ball at the Memphis 19. Navy was knocking on the door needing a touchdown for the win. But a Josh Ellis sack was followed by a fourth-down incompletion from Lavati and Memphis would get the close call win to move to 3-0 on the young season. But it was not over as the two teams got into a squabble after the game stemming from all the emotion of a hard-fought battle. After some pushing and shoving, the players went to their respective locker rooms.
Now, it’s on to Missouri to face the 2-0 Tigers in a game that many have Missouri favored to win at home. The Memphis running game will be tested against a Missouri defense that has allowed just 58.5 rushing yards a game to open the season. The game was supposed to be a home game for the Tigers but it was moved to The Dome at America’s Center in St. Louis. It will be the fourth time the two teams have met with Missouri up 3-1 in the series.
After squeaking by a Navy team they should have dominated, Missouri will be their biggest test so far. In order to win this game, they will have to keep their emotions in check and stick to football as it should be played. Missouri will test the Memphis offense often.
Game Stats vs. Navy
Blake Watson would finish with 10 carries for 169 yards including a 69-yard run to go with his seven-yard touchdown as well as six catches for 68 yards
Seth Henigan would finish 23-35 for 218 yards, one TD, and one INT to go with 11 carries for 20 yards and two rushing touchdowns
The Memphis defense allowed 299 yards on the ground led by Tecza’s 163 on 15 carries.