MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — In what might be sought-after coach Tom Herman’s final game with No. 18 Houston, Riley Ferguson threw a 10-yard touchdown pass with 19 seconds left in a wild fourth quarter Friday to lift Memphis to a 48-44 win over the Cougars.
Herman, who came into the game amid speculation he could be close to taking another job, guided the Cougars (9-3, 5-3American Athletic Conference, No. 20 CFP) back from a 17-point halftime deficit.
Greg Ward gave Houston a 44-41 lead with 1:29 remaining with his fourth TD toss, a 3-yard pass to Chance Allen.
But Memphis (8-4, 5-3) drove 72 yards in five plays and snapped a six-game losing streak against Houston after Ferguson found Anthony Miller for a 10-yard touchdown reception with 19 seconds left.
“What a game. I’m just so very proud of this football team, this coaching staff and everybody associated with our program,” said Mike Norvell, the first Tigers coach to lead Memphis to bowl eligibility in his first season. “I’m so glad the game went the way it did with the ups and the downs, because that provided us with another opportunity to show the heart and the character and how our guys would respond.
“Houston has a terrific football team. But today our guys would not be denied,” Norvell added.
Ward was spectacular, completing 47 of 67 passes for 487 yards. He also rushed for a team-high 65 yards.
Memphis struck early against a Houston defense that stifled previously No. 3-ranked Louisville in a 36-10 home win last week.
The Tigers scored touchdowns on all three of their first-quarter drives, with Ferguson going 12 of 13 for 187 yards and two touchdowns in the quarter. His 67-yard pass to Phil Mayhue gave Memphis the early lead before Doroland Dorceus made it 14-3 with a 2-yard touchdown run.
Houston held Louisville to 312 total yards and 18 first downs in its win over the Cardinals last week. By the end of the first quarter Saturday, Memphis had amassed 222 yards and three touchdowns.
Asked by ESPN before the game to address reports that he might be close to a deal with another school, Herman said, “Honestly, don’t believe anything that you read.”
HOUSTON: With rumors rampant that its head coach might be close to a deal to take over at LSU, Houston struggled early on defense. Ward gave the Cougars a chance to win but Memphis racked up 555 total yards against the porous D.
MEMPHIS: Memphis was already bowl eligible for the third straight year, marking just the second time in program history it will play in three consecutive bowl games.
HOUSTON: The Cougars will wait to find out what bowl they’re headed to and whether they’re losing they’re losing Herman, whose name has been linked to openings at LSU and Texas.
MEMPHIS: The Tigers were already out of the running to make the AAC title game, and will wait to find out where they’ll play in the postseason.