Cougars stop short from comeback, fall 48-44
Despite being down by 17 points at the half just like last season against the University of Memphis Tigers, the Cougars missed a comeback when they gave up the go-ahead touchdown with 20 seconds left.
The Tigers struck early, completing a 67-yard touchdown pass on the second play of the game. Quarterback Riley Ferguson continued to hit his receivers with regularity as he amassed 268 passing yards in the first half and 409 through all four quarters.
Tigers running back Doroland Dorceus accounted for 63 of the team’s rushing yards and a touchdown in the first half.
The Cougars kept the game close before the end of the first half, but a tipped pass thrown by senior quarterback Greg Ward Jr. turned into an interception. The opposition was able to extend their lead to 34-17 going into halftime.
Cougars’ offense came out firing in the second half as they scored on two of their first three offensive possessions.
The defense also stopped the Tigers on their first two possessions of the second half to close the deficit to seven points heading into the fourth quarter.
Senior kicker Ty Cummings connected on a 26-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter to close the Tigers’ lead to four points. Ward then completed a 55-yard touchdown pass on fourth down to junior receiver Linell Bonner, which gave Cougars a three-point lead.
Both teams traded scores, which was capped off by a toe-tapping reception in the end zone by senior receiver Chance Allen. The Cougars had a 44-41 lead with 1:29 left in the game.
The Tigers drove down the field on the ensuing kickoff to take a three-point lead with 19 seconds left.
The Cougars failed to get the ball past their own 30-yard line as the clock expired.
Head coach Tom Herman said that, despite the sluggish start, he was satisfied with how the team came out in the second half.
“I’m really proud of the effort in the second half especially,” Herman said. “We had a decision to make at halftime on whether we were going to give up and give in, or if we were going to come out in the second half and fight. Our guys fought and that’s what we do, and I was really proud of them.”
Ward led the way for the Cougars with 487 passing yards on 47 completions. Although he threw an interception in the first half, he finished with four touchdowns, three of which came in the second half.
Ward’s biggest target Friday was Bonner, who gathered 235 yards and a touchdown. Bonner had 17 receptions, seven of which were on third or fourth downs.
After the game, Ward said that the game plan was off Friday, and that there were missed opportunities.
“We didn’t do something right, and I don’t know what it was, but we had opportunities to score early and we didn’t capitalize in the red zone, so we’ve just got to do a better job,” Ward said.
Ward also said that in the second half, although the team came up short, he tried to take it upon himself to help the Cougars win the game.
The Cougars fell to 9-3 on the season, but are bowl-eligible for the fourth straight year.