Football

Memphis beats BYU in Miami Beach Bowl; game ends in brawl

The good and the bad: Memphis defensive back Bobby McCain celebrates wih teammates after defeating Brigham Young University in double overtime of the Miami Beach Bowl. Below, the teams were involved in a postgame fight that left some players bloodied and bruised.
The good and the bad: Memphis defensive back Bobby McCain celebrates wih teammates after defeating Brigham Young University in double overtime of the Miami Beach Bowl. Below, the teams were involved in a postgame fight that left some players bloodied and bruised. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

Maybe the spirits slipped into the soil when the Orange Bowl got razed.

How else to explain the way the inaugural Miami Beach Bowl at Marlins Park — featuring two schools that had never met — recalled some of the wildest, best and worst from the stadium that once stood on that spot?

Memphis lost two 10-point leads, then kept the game going with a last-minute, fourth-down touchdown pass from Paxton Lynch to Keiwone Malone and a 54-yard field goal in overtime from sophomore Jake Elliott.

An overtime interception by DaShaughn Terry ended a 55-48 double-overtime victory over Brigham Young that seemed breathless from about the fourth snap forward.

Then again, running up and down the field to — or chasing — 904 yards of offense leaves most teams gasping for the oxygen tanks.

“This is probably the craziest and emotional game I have ever been a part of,” said Lynch, who was named the game’s MVP after completing 24 of 46 passes for 306 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions.

The emotions ignited in a postgame brawl. ESPN cameras caught a number of sucker punches, some helmet-swinging, stomping and kicking.

No players or coaches on either side cast blame on the other for starting it. In the town where Cassius Clay invented modern trash talk and the 1980s Hurricanes refined it, there had been words back and forth throughout the game.

Officials hit BYU with a taunting penalty after one touchdown.

Following Memphis escaping with a game BYU twice came so near to winning, the Tigers bounced toward their cheering section to celebrate. But with those Tigers fan seated behind BYU’s bench, Memphis had to go through a sideline full of dejected Cougars.

“It was an onslaught of celebration coming at us, so who knows from there?” BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “Just one excited team and one frustrated team after the game. When you put those two together, hard to know where it went and how that all starts.”

Memphis coach Justin Fuente said, “My message to the kids is going to be you can work hard all your life, try to do things right and you make one bad decision and all of a sudden it’s going to stick with you. I don’t know what happened, but that’s not who we want to represent or who we want to be.”

The brawl dumped dirt on what wound up a game of redemption.

It started as a game of pinball with 28 points in the first 7:34 and receivers running more open than the Marlins Park roof.

BYU’s Christian Stewart hit his first nine passes on the way to a 23-of-48, 348-yard day with four touchdowns and three interceptions. With the help of a couple of turnovers, he turned 24-14 and 38-28 deficits into 28-24 and 45-38 leads.

Not often do quarterbacks throw three interceptions, including a fourth-quarter pick-six that puts his team behind, and still come out the player of the game. But the best play of Lynch’s day came after BYU’s Zac Stout returned an interception 19 yards for a 45-38 lead with 7:48 left.

Step 1 of redemption: On fourth-and-7 from the BYU 30, Lynch fired a sideline throw into Malone’s flight pattern, and Malone outfought BYU’s Skye PoVey for the ball. The 19-yard gain gave Memphis a first down at the 11.

Step 2: Four plays later, fourth-and-4 from the 5. BYU stacked double coverage on Malone, the one Memphis player with bowl experience from his time at Alabama. Lynch wandered out of the pocket to create more time to look over a small space teeming with BYU defenders. Finally, he fired at an area in the middle of the end zone, hoping for Alan Cross, instead finding a sliding Malone.

“When he rolled out to the opposite side of me, I saw him point at Alan Cross,” Lynch said. “Alan Cross was coming towards me. Paxton lofted it to the middle of the field. I ran over and caught the ball. It wasn’t intended for me, but I wanted to step up and make that play for my team.”

In overtime, BYU struck first with a field goal after Jordan Leslie thought he’d secured a touchdown pass against his shoulder. Officials reviewed the play and ruled the ball scraped the ground.

On Memphis’ ensuing possession, the Tigers faced a fourth-and-22 at the 37.

“I just didn’t feel like what was it? Fourth and forever,” Fuente said. “I didn’t feel like that was a smart play. I felt a lot better about Jake making a field goal than I felt about us making fourth-and-[22].”

Elliott nailed it.

On the second possession in overtime, Lynch lobbed an 11-yard touchdown to Rod Proctor. Terry intercepted a BYU pass at the goal line to cap a 10-3 season for Memphis.

“Writing our name in the history books with 10 wins?” Cross said as he bled from a head wound sustained in the brawl. “Memphis ain’t done that but one time in the 1960s? It’s been a long time. It’s a great feeling to win a bowl game.”

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