BYU quarterback Christian Stewart will have visions of Memphis defensive back DeShaughn Terry running through his mind for a long time. The senior from Orem threw his final pass as a collegian, an interception to Terry, in the second overtime to seal the defeat for the Cougars as BYU (8-5) lost to Memphis 55-48 in the inaugural Miami Beach Bowl Monday night at Marlins' Park before an announced crowd of 20.761.
"I thought my team tried really hard to win the football game, but didn't execute cleanly enough," BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said. "We fell short in a few critical moments and did not capitalize on opportunities to win the game."
Stewart threw the ill-advised pass into double coverage and Terry made a great play on the ball to bring the Cougars season to an end and also bring an end to Stewart's career at BYU. Stewart finished the game 23-of-48 for 348 yards and three scores. It market the sixth time in Stewart's eight starts this season that he has thrown for at least three scores. He finishes his season with 25 passing touchdowns and 2,621 yards passing with a 57.2 percent completion rate.
'He is an amazing young man," Mendenhall said of Stewart after the game. "He is one of the favorite guys that I ever coached and I know that he gave us everything he could."
Algernon Brown led the Cougars ground assault with 79 yards on 19 carries, while Mitch Matthews gathered in nine of Stewart's passes for 92 yards and a score.
For the Cougars, it was a game that they trailed more often than they controlled. They fell behind in the first quarter and only led for brief periods thereafter.
"It was a very emotional game. It was a hard fought football game," Memphis coach Justin Fuente said after the win. "Those kids from BYU battled back twice from deficits and our kids battled back as well. You cannot take anything away from BYU after this game. They played their hearts out."
BYU thought that it had the game won when Trevor Samson drilled a 45 yard field goal during the first overtime to give the Cougars a temporary 48-45 lead. The Tigers (10-3) took over and were stymied by a tough BYU defense that forced the Tigers to retreat and lose 12 yards on the possession. On 4th and 22 from the 37, sophomore Jake Elliott calmly stepped up and nailed a 55-yard effort that had 10 yards to spare to knot the game once again at 48. He did this after missing the first kick that was wiped out due to the fact that Mendenhall called timeout to ice the kicker before the snap.
"I never got to see where it landed, but I knew I hit it well," Elliott said. "After the timeout, I just took a few more breaths and got to swing my leg a few more times. It really gave me a chance to catch my breath."
The Tigers got the ball first during the second overtime and scored a touchdown as game MVP Paxton Lynch found Roderick Proctor with a 25-yard scoring strike to give Memphis a seven-point lead. BYU got the ball back, but could do nothing with it as Stewart's pick ended the game for the Cougars.
"This is the most emotional game that I have ever participated in," Lynch said. "I knew that I had to keep the play alive and give our guys a chance to catch it. The guys ran good routes and we were able to come up with a big play at the end of the game to win it."
Lynch finished the game completing 24-of-46 passes for 306 yards and four touchdowns. He also had three interceptions, one of which was returned by linebacker Zac Stout 19 yards for a BYU touchdown that gave the Cougars a brief 45-38 lead with 7:48 to play in the game. It was Stout's first career interception and first score.
"We were going to ride with Paxton the whole way, win or lose," Fuente said. "Our running game was not doing much and when you look into your quarterback's eyes and you see the fire that he displayed it makes you feel better about sending him back out. I knew he would lead us to victory."
Lynch was glad that his coach and his teammates had enough confidence in him to send him back out after Stout's interception, the third of the game for Lynch.
"I knew that my team had my back and that my coach believed in me," Lynch said. "As a quarterback you really cannot ask for much more than that."
It has been said that statistics are for losers, but BYU the stats indicate that BYU played very well on offense. They ran 90 plays and totals 425 yards while scoring seven touchdowns. Their porous defense allowed the Tigers to run 97 plays and attain 480 yards. The defense did come up with a season high three interceptions.
In the game's first three minutes, each team scored a touchdown and it was clearly a sign of things to come. When Stewart hit Mitch Juergens with a 47-yard strike with 12:17 to play in the first quarter, the game was tied at 7-7 and those in attendance could see that it was going to be an offensive day. The first quarter took 52 minutes to complete.
"Today's game was definitely a battle and both teams were feisty and both teams came out strong and the game was a dogfight," Juergens said. "I really felt like both teams came out want it and in the first quarter points were scored really fast and it shows the momentum each team had and both teams really wanted to come out of this with a victory."
The first half ended with the Cougars leading 28-24. However, once the third quarter started Lynch took over and ran for a score and passed for another to give the Tigers a 10 point lead at 38-28. BYU rallied back with 21 points in the fourth quarter to take a 45-38 lead late in the game after Stout's interception return for a touchdown.
However, with under a minute to play, Lynch threw his third scoring strike of the game to Keiwone Malone to tie the game again at 45 and send the game into overtime.
At the conclusion of the game, there was a bench-clearing brawl that featured unidentified players from each team. Punches were thrown and players were shoved, but there was no indication that any suspensions would result from the fracas. Cougars defensive back Kai Nacua, was shown on television with blood all over his face from contusions suffered in the brawl. ESPN replays show that he caught Memphis tight end Alan Cross with a punch long after play finished.
"That's not who we are and I'm upset," Fuente said. "I hope it does not take away from an unbelievable football game. We've got to learn how to handle success and act the right way. Four or five seconds could follow you for a lifetime."
The fight was reminiscent of the Miami-Florida International University brawl that occurred on this same land, but when the old Orange Bowl was still located on the site. This was the first football game played on the hallowed ground since the Orange Bowl was demolished to pave the way for the new Marlins facility.