By Phil Stukenborg (Knoxville News Sentinel)
MIAMI – So who came of age in Monday’s Miami Beach Bowl?
Was it third-year University of Memphis coach Justin Fuente, the American Athletic Conference coach of the year and a finalist for national coach of the year?
Was it second-year quarterback Paxton Lynch, who rushed for three scores and threw for four to set a school record for points responsible for?
Or was it Tigers linebacker Jackson Dillon, whose stellar play in the first half helped spot Memphis a 10-point lead?
Or was it the Miami Beach Bowl, which got an instant classic for an inaugural game: more than 900 yards total offense, 13 touchdowns, four lead changes, two thrilling overtimes and a postgame brawl?
Memphis capped its remarkable season with a 5548 victory over BYU and reached 10 wins for the second time in the program’s history and for the first time since 1938.
It took late heroics from Lynch, who tossed a short, game-tying touchdown pass on fourth down in the closing minute of regulation and the game-winner to Roderick Proctor in the second overtime.
Kicker Jake Elliott forced the second overtime with a booming 54-yard kick and defensive back De-Shaughn Terry ended the game with an interception of BYU quarterback Christian Stewart in the second overtime.
“I’m just happy we found a way to win it,” said Fuente, whose team could be ranked for the first time in a decade when the final polls come out after bowl season. “This was a (hotly) contested game with a lot of emotion, two teams who were out there trying to knock the fire out of each other.
“There was a lot of backand-forth (trash-talking, shoving) and our kids just kept plugging away. That’s who they are. They’ve been through a lot.” A fight broke out between multiple Tigers and Cougars players, with ESPN replays showing combatants on both sides throwing punches, swinging helmets and getting bloodied.
The fight broke out shortly after Terry ended the game by intercepting Stewart. As the Tigers rushed the field to celebrate, several Memphis and BYU players began swinging at one another.
Dillon was talking with Stewart as the game ended and was knocked to the ground by BYU offensive lineman Tejan Karoma. Replays showed Memphis defensive lineman Martin Ifedi throwing multiplepunches. Memphis offensive lineman Chase Johnson is shown swinging his helmet while linebacker Leonard Pegues is alongside Ifedi and throwing punches.
In the melee, BYU defensive back Kai Nacua andTigers tight end Alan Cross were bloodied, although Cross’ bloodied forehead, he said, was the result of a pregame head butt with a teammate. Still, replays showed Nacua throwing two sucker punches from behind on the right side ofCross’ face.
“I don’t know what happened at the end,” Fuente said. “It’s not who we are and it’s not what we want to represent. And I hope it doesn’t take away from an incredibly played football game on both sides.” The Tigers were playing in their first bowl game in six years against a perennial postseason team, but they never gave in despite some problems.
Lynch was intercepted three times after having not been picked off in the past six games, and was picked off twice in the fourth quarter. The turnovers allowed the Cougars to recover from a 38-28 deficit entering the final period.
Throwing off his back foot, Lynch was intercepted by Manoa Pikula at the Tigers 47 and the miscue led to a 23-yard field goal by Samson. On the ensuing kickoff, Craig fumbled at the Tigers 26 and it led to a 7-yard run by Paul Lasike to tie the game 38-38.
BYU took the lead when Zac Stout returned a Lynch interception 19 yards for a touchdown.
But Lynch overcame the mistakes, tossing the tying 5-yard touchdown pass to Keiwone Malone with 45 seconds left in regulation and the game-winner to Proctor, the first score of the freshman’s career.
After the comeback to send the game into overtime, the Tigers watched BYU’s Trevor Samson connect on a 45-yard field goal in the first overtime. Memphis tied the game on Elliott’s fourth-down, 54yard field goal.
And in the second overtime, Lynch found Proctor from 11 yards to set up Terry’s bowl-clinching interception.
Memphis (10-3) finished with 480 total yards to 425 for BYU (8-5).
Memphis receiver Roderick Proctor celebrates after making a touchdown during double overtime in the inaugural Miami Beach Bowl against Brigham Young on Monday.
WILFREDO LEE/ASSOCIATED PRESS