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Memphis begins bowls with victory

Posted: Wednesday, December 17, 2003

NEW ORLEANS Danny Wimprine had only great memories of playing in the Louisiana Superdome, and kept it that way in the New Orleans Bowl.

Wimprine threw for 254 yards and accounted for two touchdowns as Memphis won its first bowl game in 32 years, a 27-17 victory over North Texas on Tuesday night.

''It's been a long time coming for this university,'' said Wimprine, who was born about a decade after Memphis' last bowl appearance a 28-9 victory over San Jose State in the 1971 Pasadena Bowl.

Memphis has been bad for most years since, including last season, when the Tigers went 3-9.

''All those seniors, those guys who have been here through so many tough times ... to go out as winners makes me feel great for this team,'' said Wimprine, a junior.

Wimprine grew up in New Orleans and had played in the Superdome three times before, winning two Louisiana high school championships with John Curtis and a regular season game for Memphis over Tulane this season. He was named the MVP of Tuesday night's game, the first of 28 college bowls this season.

''This is a great place for me,'' Wimprine said. ''It's just another memory to add to the collection and this is probably the best one.''

Memphis was without its best running back, DeAngelo Williams. But Wimprine moved the offense early by completing his first 10 passes, including sideline bombs of 63 yards to Darren Garcia and 50 yards to Mario Pratcher.

Both passes set up TDs as the Tigers (9-4) took a 17-3 lead. Wimprine finished 17-of-23 with no interceptions.

''He did a great job running the offense and not making a mistake, and that was the key,'' Memphis coach Tommy West said.

Wimprine's touchdown pass was a 10-yard bullet to Chris Kelley as he crouched in tight coverage along the sideline. Wimprine also ran for a 7-yard score on a quarterback draw, the game's first touchdown.

''He made some outstanding throws. He's a smart quarterback. He moves around the pocket well,'' North Texas coach Darrell Dickey said. ''We hadn't given up a ton of big plays but they hit us for some big plays.''

North Texas' Patrick Cobbs, the nation's leader in rushing yards per game with 157, gained 110 yards and scored two touchdowns.

''They would blitz the gaps and stop our offense,'' Cobbs said. ''I thought we could break a big play if we kept pounding it and we had a couple.''

Scott Hall threw for 152 yards, completing several long passes in the second half on two touchdown drives as North Texas (9-4) kept the game close well into the fourth quarter.

North Texas has represented the fledgling Sun Belt Conference in all three New Orleans Bowls and won the game last year against Cincinnati.

The Mean Green made it 17-10 when Cobbs burst through a hole outside the left tackle and broke free for a 35-yard score.

But after North Texas' defense had played a nearly flawless third quarter, a mistake by that unit allowed Memphis to regain a two-touchdown lead. North Texas appeared to have forced a punt just outside its own 40 when the Mean Green gang tackled LaKendus Cole on a screen play for a loss.

But Adrian Awasom was flagged for a 15-yard face-mask penalty that gave Memphis a first down on the North Texas 21. Several plays later, Cole squirmed his way into the end zone on a 5-yard run up the middle for a 24-10 lead.

Memphis needed the cushion as Hall completed two long passes in a 5-play, 86-yard drive made it 24-17 when Cobbs bowled his way into the end zone from 2 yards out.

Memphis then used up 4:47 on an 11-play drive that ended with Stephen Gostkowski's 42-yard field goal with 2:26 left.

After the victory, West thanked his players for having faith in his ability to turn around Memphis' long-struggling football program.

''These guys had to buy into a dream of what it could be, not what it was because it wasn't very good,'' West said. ''We had always been the type that had to learn how to handle adversity, now we've got to learn how to handle success, but I don't think that'll be a problem.''



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