The Wake Forest Demon Deacons closed out the season with a thrilling 37-34 victory over the Memphis Tigers on Saturday in the 2018 Birmingham Bowl at Legion Field in Birmingham, Alabama.
Wake Forest improved to 7-6 for their third straight winning season after seven consecutive losing campaigns. The Deacs, who were led by quarterback Jamie Newman's four total touchdowns, are winners of three bowl games in a row after coming out on top in the Military Bowl (2016) and Belk Bowl (2017).
Memphis, which reached the AAC Championship Game before losing to the undefeated UCF Knights, was led by two scores apiece by Tony Pollard and Patrick Taylor Jr. The loss dropped the Tigers' record to 8-6 and extended the program's losing streak in bowl games to four years.
The first half will probably stand up as one of the most entertaining 30-minute stretches of bowl season.
It featured a little bit of everything. Three rushing touchdowns, two passing touchdowns, a pick-six, a kick return taken back to the house and a field goal. The end result was 52 combined points and a 28-24 Memphis lead at halftime.
The Tigers provided a cool slow-motion look at special teams ace Pollard going 97 yards for a score early in the second quarter:
Not to be outdone, Newman used a terrific individual effort of his own on a 17-yard touchdown run shortly before the break:
That scoring barrage slowed in the third quarter as a pair of field goals from Wake kicker Nick Sciba represented the only points in the frame and gave his team a two-point advantage.
The Demon Deacons defense, which entered the game ranked 116th in yards allowed per game, nearly held the Tigers at bay for the entire second half. But Memphis embarked on a 14-play, 88-yard scoring drive to regain the lead at 34-30 with 1:15 left in the contest on Taylor's second TD of the day.
Wake Forest stormed right back down the field, however, highlighted by a 49-yard reception by Alex Bachman to get the team in scoring range. The Deacs capitalized as Newman eventually powered in from one yard out for the second lead change in 41 seconds.
Tigers kicker Riley Patterson had an opportunity to tie the game at the regulation buzzer but missed wide right on a 43-yard attempt after a five-yard penalty for delay of game. He'd converted on a 38-yard try that was wiped out by a Wake timeout before the snap.
All told, between the high-scoring first half and the wild final two minutes, the Birmingham Bowl became an unexpected gem for college football fans.
Memphis will be forced to replace two key players before next season with redshirt senior linebacker Curtis Akins, the team's leading tackler, and junior running back Darrell Henderson Jr. ending their time with the Tigers. Henderson announced he will forgo his senior season to enter the 2019 NFL draft.
Wake Forest should be ready to take a significant step forward offensively next year with almost all of its key contributors set to return, including quarterback Sam Hartman, running back Cade Carney and wide receiver Greg Dortch. Hartman and Dortch missed the bowl game because of injuries.