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American Athletic Championship: Memphis 29, Cincinnati 24

MEMPHIS, Tenn. - Memphis coach Mike Norvell made his final home game at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium memorable.

Norvell and the Tigers captured the American Athletic Conference championship - after failing the previous two years - as Brady White's 6-yard pass to Antonio Gibson for a touchdown with 1:14 left gave No. 16 Memphis a 29-24 victory over No. 21 Cincinnati.

Florida State will introduce Norvell as its new coach Sunday, two people with direct knowledge of the decision told The Associated Press. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the official announcement has not been made.

As for Norvell, he wasn't tipping his hand regarding his future. Instead, the Memphis coach directed all of his postgame comments to his team.

"We knew this was going to be a game that was going to come down to responses," Norvell said. "How we responded to adversity. How we responded to success at times. But that's the character and the heart of these kids."

On the game-winning scoring drive, Norvell leaned on Gibson, who capped the march corralling the TD pass. Gibson was the workhorse during the drive, carrying the ball five straight times for 23 yards, giving Memphis (12-1, No. 17 in CFP) third-and goal from the Bearcat 6.

On the play, Gibson split right instead of lining up in the backfield. He came in motion, caught the screen pass from quarterback Brady White and with three blockers in front of him, skirted in for the winning touchdown.

Gibson ran for 130 yards, including a 65-yard TD dash.

Cincinnati (10-3, No. 20 CFP) had taken a 24-23 lead with 4:23 left on Sam Crosa's 33-yard field goal. That gave Memphis the ball back with plenty of time.

They used most of it before Gibson's score.

"We were excited it was our turn to get the ball," White said, adding, "That last drive, we knew without a doubt we were going to execute the way we know how to. We were going to own the football and do what we did. We were able to move the ball."

It was closer than the season-finale between these eight days ago, which Memphis won 34-24, earning the right to host this game. This time, Cincinnati had starting quarterback Desmond Ridder available. Ridder, who was nursing a sore shoulder the first game, brought stability to the Cincinnati offense and the ability to scramble out of trouble - a trait not shown by Memphis' White.

Ridder threw for 233 yards and ran for 113 more, including a 15-yard touchdown in the first half as Cincinnati took a 14-10 lead into the break.

In the second half, Memphis benefitted from a pair of field goals - 52 and 50 yards - by kicker Riley Patterson as the teams exchanged leads.

Cincinnati drove to the Memphis 26 on its final possession, but stalled.

"We didn't find a way," Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell said of falling short. "We didn't have the answers there at the end. But it wasn't for lack of preparation. It wasn't from a lack of fight and it certainly wasn't from a lack of care and love for every one of those guys in that locker room."

Associated Press

December 7, 2019