ULM falls short to No. 23 Memphis

Sports

MONROE, La. – With quarterback Caleb Evans unleashed, ULM matched Memphis in offensive firepower all afternoon on Saturday at Malone Stadium.

Evans passed for 286 yards and two touchdowns, rushed for 112 yards and two touchdowns and the Warhawks rang up 575 total yards against a Memphis defense that allowed just 263 yards per game coming in. 

However, Memphis enjoyed a monster offensive day of its own and had more points to show for it in a 52-33 win over ULM before a home crowd of 17,143.

“We did a lot of good things offensively,” ULM coach Matt Viator said. “We were so close to a couple of other things there that could have made a difference.”

Running back Josh Johnson added 119 rushing yards for ULM (2-3), which tallied 256 yards on the ground. Johnson has three games over 100 yards this year.

“Guys are really playing hard and playing good,” Viator said. “We’ve got to get over the hump.”

No. 23 Memphis (5-0) arrived as the first ranked team to visit Malone Stadium in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision era and showcased a versatile offensive attack, led by quarterback Brady White’s 249 passing yards and three TDs.  The Tigers rolled up 535 yards as the teams combined for 1,110 overall.

“We just have to feed off each other and do our jobs together,” Evans said.

Still, ULM kept firing and made it interesting into the fourth quarter.

ULM pulled within 39-33 on a 36-yard scoring strike to Josh Pederson with 6:31 remaining in the game. The Warhawks covered 93 yards in just six plays in 1:56 to get within six points.

Memphis running back Kenneth Gainwell, who rushed for 209 yards and two touchdowns, dashed ULM’s upset hopes with a 68-yard touchdown sprint on the first play of the next drive. The 2-point pass attempt failed, but the Tigers extended the lead to 45-33 with 6:16 remaining.

“We certainly feel like we’ve got a shot and got the momentum when Gainwell breaks another run,” Viator said. “That kind of put a dagger in us there.”

Seconds later, Evans had an interception returned 37 yards for a touchdown with 6:07 left and Memphis was breathing easy again up 52-33.

Beyond the gaudy offensive numbers, penalties were also a notable statistic. ULM was flagged 11 times for 114yards, and Memphis had nine penalties for 70 yards.      

Before the game unraveled, ULM was playing catch-up on the scoreboard throughout the contest. 
Memphis scored on its opening series, needing just six plays to move 75 yards in under two minutes. White, 4-for-4 passing for 47 yards on the drive, finished with a 5-yard touchdown strike to Damonte Coxie for a 7-0 Memphis lead. 

ULM’s first points came on a 35-yard field goal by Jared Porter. The Warhawks, who had a touchdown run by Evans taken off the scoreboard board on a holding call, moved 74 yards in 16 plays for a 7-3 margin with 5:25 left in the first quarter.

Gainwell’s 40-yard touchdown run extended the Memphis lead to 14-3 with 13:46 remaining in the second quarter.

The Warhawks responded with an impressive drive that covered 75 yards in six plays, ending with a 7-yard run by Evans with 11:12 left in the half. ULM’s big play was a 32-yard pass to Markis McCray down to the Memphis 31.

The Tigers retaliated with an eight-play, 75-yard scoring drive, culminating with White’s 2-yard connection with tight end Kameron Wilson. Memphis led 21-10 with 7:30 showing in the second quarter.

On the ensuing kickoff, Memphis recovered an onside kick at its own 46 and used the extra possession to extend the lead to 29-10 on Kylan Watkins’ 14-yard TD run and a 2-point conversion run by Preston Brady. 

Down 19, Evans came back wheeling and dealing for ULM. The senior quarterback directed an 82-yard drive in nine plays, tossing a 6-yard touchdown pass to Josh Pederson with 1:40 left in the half to narrow the gap to 29-17.

“He certainly extended some plays, which was huge,” Viator said.

ULM’s defense provided a takeaway when Cortez Sisco Jr. forced a fumble off tight end Joey Magnifico and Traveion Webster recovered at the Warhawks’ 34 with 51 seconds to go. ULM moved into scoring position, but Porter’s 50-yard field goal attempt was blocked as time expired.

An action-packed first half featured 641 yards of total offense and plenty of penalty flags. ULM amassed 302 yards in the first half with 17 first downs. Memphis gained 339 yards. ULM had eight penalties for 89 yards and Memphis had seven for 55. 

Memphis took the second-half kickoff 43 yards in eight plays and Riley Patterson kicked a career-long 50-yard field goal to extend the lead to 32-17. 

ULM’s first series of the second half also ended with a field goal of 29 yards by Porter. ULM’s drive was 63 yards in 10 plays and the Warhawks trailed 32-20 with 7:41 left in the third quarter.

Memphis hit on another chunk play to jump ahead 39-20 with 6:11 remaining in the period when White tossed a 50-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Gibson.

Evans delivered another big play of his own by scampering 45 yards for his second touchdown and made it a 39-26 contest at the 3:00 mark in the third quarter. ULM was unable to convert the 2-point conversion. 

Austin Hawley provided ULM’s top defensive play with an interception of White at midfield and returning it 35 yards to the Memphis 15 with 11:32 left in the game. With the chance to make a one-score game, the Warhawks faced fourth-and-8 from the 13 after a penalty but turned the ball over on downs on an incomplete pass with 9:24 to go.  

“We went through a stretch there, three or four series, where I thought we played really good defense,” Viator said. “That’s when we got held twice on fourth down. We’ve just got to match it where we’re playing really well on both sides of the ball at the same time.”

Military Day Highlights: World War II veteran Jay Vinyard and Nell Chennault Calloway, granddaughter of Gen. Claire Chennault and CEO of the Chennault Aviation & Military Museum in Monroe, participated in the pregame coin toss.

Vinyard, 96, served with the Air Transport Command overseas in China-Burma-India (CBI) Theater from July 1944-February 1945, flying the “Hump,” an aerial military support route between the Assam Valley in India to Yunnan Province in southwest China, primarily in support of the U.S. Army 14th Air Force under the command of Gen. Chennault.

Vinyard flew 87 round-trip missions over the Himalaya mountains during his service in China. For his overseas service, he was awarded an Air Medal with cluster and a Distinguished Flying Cross with cluster.

The pregame flyover featured two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, provided by the 1-244th Aviation Regiment of the Louisiana Army National Guard, stationed at Hammond Northshore Regional Airport.

ULM also wore its P-40 Warhawk series alternate uniforms for the fifth time.

Up next: ULM plays at Texas State on Thursday, Oct. 10 for a Sun Belt Conference game that will be televised on ESPNU. Kickoff is 8:15 p.m. The Bobcats (2-3) had an open date after beating Nicholls State 24-3 on Sept. 28.  

Tail feathers: With T.J. Fiailoa (leg) out for the year, ULM’s reshuffled starting offensive line featured LT Eastwood Thomas, LG Trace Ellison, C Bobby Reynolds, RG Brandon Jones and RT Samuel Williams. … ULM’s game captains were WR Brandius Batiste, LB Cortez Sisco Jr., CB Corey Straughter and DL John Washington. … Evans rushed for his fourth and fifth TD this season. … With LB Chase Day missing the game because of an injury, Rashaad Harding was the starter at MIKE … Pederson scored his fourth and fifth receiving touchdowns. … Receiver and return specialist Brandius Batiste did not play after an injury in practice last week.

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