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Cougars lose in last chance to reach AAC championship

With the loss against Memphis, Houston will miss out on the opportunity to play for a conference championship for the third season in a row. | Corbin Ayres/ The Cougar

In UH’s most important game of the season, the Cougars fell short against the Memphis Tigers even as star junior defensive tackle Ed Oliver played in his first game since his injury against Navy.

True freshman quarterback Clayton Tune started for UH in place of the injured junior D’Eriq King as the Cougars fell to the Tigers 31-52.

Tune struggled to begin the game as he threw two near interceptions into the hands of the defense. After his rough start, he started gaining momentum in the half. He led the Cougars to the first score of the game on a pass to junior receiver Terry Mark.

Memphis then caught fire as they scored 17 unanswered points after the initial score.

UH answered with a passing touchdown after Tune avoided a near sack to find junior receiver Keith Corbin open in the back of the endzone.

On Memphis’ next drive, sophomore cornerback Gleson Sprewell intercepted a pass from Memphis quarterback Brady White and returned it for a touchdown.

After the interception, Memphis started a long drive and brought the ball into the redzone with about 30 seconds left in the half. The Tigers got all the way to the five-yard line, but then White threw another interception to Sprewell at the goal line to end the half with the score 21-17.

Oliver was a force for the Cougars in the first half, but he did not return to the game after halftime. Later in the game, he was visibly emotional on the sideline as the Cougars got outplayed after the break.

In the second half, Memphis struck first with a touchdown to take a three-point lead.

UH responded with sophomore Dalton Witherspoon’s longest field goal of the season to tie the game.

After the Cougars had to punt the ball from inside its own 20, Memphis came back to score another touchdown on a running play in which junior receiver Tony Pollard made it into the endzone untouched.

UH came right back with a touchdown of its own after Corbin scored on a deep pass from Tune.

Memphis went on to take advantage of Oliver’s absence by rushing two touchdowns in a row. The second was after a 60-yard run by Darrell Henderson, the new AAC record holder for rushing yards in a season. Memphis racked up more than 400 yards rushing against the Cougars’ depleted defensive line.

After UH failed on a fourth down conversion in its next drive, Memphis scored another rushing touchdown by Henderson that played as the dagger for the Tigers.

UH got into the redzone with a little more than two minutes to try to start an improbable comeback, but Tune threw an interception into the endzone for UH’s final offensive possession.

Tune threw three touchdowns but also completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes in his first career start.

Memphis is returning to the AAC Championship Game for the second season in a row even after being as low as third in the AAC West close to the end of the season. UH held first place for a large part of the year, but several losses at the end of the season kept the Cougars out of the AAC Championship Game for the third consecutive year.

Memphis will meet UCF for the second year in a row for the AAC crown. UH’s next game will be its bowl appearance, and it will also be Oliver’s last game as a Cougar.

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