Memphis Tigers set to play in AAC title game

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - The Memphis Tigers came into the 2017 season with aspirations of a conference title and a trip to a New Year's 6 Bowl.

With a 66-45 win over SMU on Saturday, the Tigers are one step closer to achieving those goals.

The Memphis Tigers ran out on to the field at the Liberty Bowl on Saturday with history on the line.

With a win over SMU, the Tigers had the opportunity to clinch a spot in the conference title game for the first time in program history.

When it was all said and done, Memphis clinched that spot, holding up the AAC West Division trophy for all to see.

"For this team, they'll always be remembered," said head coach Mike Norvell. "It was something they've been able to set out and accomplish something. That trophy will always sit on our shelf. Their pictures will always be on our walls."

But the win wasn't easy by any means.

SMU jumped up to a 10-0 lead on the Tigers before Memphis finally answered.

Tigers receiver Anthony Miller jump-started the first scoring drive. He took a short pass from Riley Ferguson for a 48-yard gain before Patrick Taylor finished off the drive with a touchdown run.

Miller finished the day with eight receptions for 163 yards and two touchdowns. The former walk-on from Christian Brothers also became the school's all-time leader for receptions, adding on to his resume that features the school records for yards receiving and touchdowns as well.

After the game, Miller was happy to hold up a trophy for his hometown.

"I look up in the stands and I see smiles on faces, and they're all piped up, turnt up," Miller said.

A big day for Miller equaled a big day for Ferguson, too. Ferguson was efficient as a quarterback, going 21 of 27 for 320 yards and those two touchdowns to Miller.

But Ferguson showed off another weapon in his arsenal: his feet. He ran for three touchdowns, including one where he used a spin move to evade a tackle and score for the Tigers.

"Riley's been telling me about this move and after two years I finally got to see it, and it actually worked out well," Norvell said.

"Tonight, we actually had some quarterback run plays called," Ferguson said. "We haven't done that much often at all throughout the whole season."

In a matchup where the scoring was back and forth, the Tigers run game overall was huge. Memphis racked up seven touchdowns on the ground and over 330 rushing yards.

Patrick Taylor scored two of those but, but Darrell Henderson stole the show with touchdown runs of 70 yards and 52 yards.

"Offensive line, they did an amazing job tonight," Henderson said. "They gave me big seams to run through."

But the Tigers faced adversity, too.

With heavy winds and a storm hanging over the Liberty Bowl, the game went to a lightning delay early in the fourth quarter.

Although momentum was on Memphis' side, a break from action threatened that momentum.

But the Tigers, who practiced lighting delays in fall camp, were relaxed and came back from a 30-minute delay to put the game out of reach for an SMU offense that kept up with Memphis for most of the day.

"We walked into the locker room during the delay. I mean the mindset, the attitude... no adversity was going to distract this football team," Norvell said.

"That's the kind of maturity we have as a team," Ferguson said. "To come in, take a lightning delay. Go back out and still be focused. Still have our head in the game, and know that we still have to go out and finish in order to clinch this title."

So the Tigers did it. They clinched their division and now they'll finish out the regular season next week on Senior Day against East Carolina.

Then it's off to AAC Championship game. Just two more wins from reaching one of the top bowls in college football.

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