No. 17 Memphis tops No. 20 Cincinnati for AAC title, likely securing Cotton Bowl bid

Antonio Gibson caught a 6-yard touchdown pass from Brady White with 1:14 left and No. 17 Memphis defeated No. 20 Cincinnati 29-24 in the American Athletic Conference championship game on Saturday.

The victory marked the first time Memphis (12-1) has won the AAC title in its third straight conference championship game. The Tigers now wait for an invitation to the Cotton Bowl as the highest-ranked Group of Five team.


In the meantime, Memphis coach Mike Norvell will be on the move.

Two people with knowledge of the decision say Norvell will be introduced Sunday as Florida State's coach. The people spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because an official announcement had not been made.

Norvell declined to answer any questions about his future after the win. Asked whether he expected to coach Memphis in the Cotton Bowl, he said, “Obviously, that's the plan.”

Eight days after beating the Bearcats 34-24 at home in the regular-season finale, Memphis rallied for another win.

“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.”

Along with scoring the go-ahead touchdown, Gibson ran for 130 yards, including a 65-yard TD dash.

“Give them a lot of credit. They made the plays down the stretch that needed to be made, and we didn't,” Bearcats coach Luke Fickell said.

Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder, who did not play last week against Memphis, passed for 233 yards and ran for 113 more. He also had a 15-yard touchdown in the first half.

The game became a back-and-forth battle in the fourth quarter. Sam Crosa’s 33-yard field goal with 4:23 left gave the Bearcats (10-3) a 24-23 lead.

On the Tigers' next drive, Gibson caught two passes and ran five times, setting Memphis up at the Cincinnati 6. On the scoring play, Gibson was split right and caught White's pass.

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

“We didn't find a way,” Fickell said. “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.”


Cincinnati: Ridder was key in giving the Bearcats a chance in the championship game. He was able to scramble more than backup Ben Bryant, who played in the first game between the two teams.


Memphis: White, a second-team all-conference selection, completed just 18 of 40 passes for 253 yards. Memphis was able to remain close with a pair of second-half field goals by Riley Patterson of 50 and 52 yards.

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