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Sport Mike Norvell stays true to himself with gutsy call as Memphis gets back to AAC title game | Giannotto

06:35  30 november  2019
06:35  30 november  2019 Source:   commercialappeal.com

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On the biggest play of the most important game to date during this historic Memphis football season, they all had to believe in each other.

a person doing a trick on a stage: Memphis head coach Mike Norvell hoists the AAC West championship trophy Friday, Nov. 29, 2019, after defeating Cincinnati 34-24 at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis. © Max Gersh / The Commercial Appeal Memphis head coach Mike Norvell hoists the AAC West championship trophy Friday, Nov. 29, 2019, after defeating Cincinnati 34-24 at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis.

Mike Norvell had to believe in himself, right after he went for it on fourth down when he could have padded the lead and failed. He had to believe the players would execute this trick play. Even though this particular trick play had only been installed two weeks before. Even though the Tigers had only practiced it maybe six or seven times. 

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Quarterback Brady White had to believe that tailback Patrick Taylor Jr. would successfully flip to the ball to wide receiver Kedarian Jones, and that Jones would then toss it back to White. 

BOX SCORE:  MEMPHIS 34, CINCINNATI 24

RELATED:  Memphis beats Cincinnati to set up rematch in AAC title game

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White had to believe his eyes because in practice he didn't usually see wide receiver Damonte Coxie streaking past a defender. He had to believe if he just threw the ball up there, Coxie would catch it. 

And Coxie had to believe in White. He had to believe White meant what he said earlier in the game, that the ball was eventually coming his way. He had to believe in himself, that as White's pass soared through the air "me or nobody" was coming down with it. 

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They had to believe that if this didn't work, if Cincinnati got the ball back, their defense would deliver again.

So after Friday night, after White took the feed from Jones, after White launched the ball into the air, after Coxie grabbed it in the end zone, after the Tigers secured their 34-24 win over Cincinnati and a third straight American Athletic Conference championship game, it's time to believe what you're watching.

a group of men playing a game of football: Memphis' Damonte Coxie (10) looks back while running the ball after making a catch Friday, Nov. 29, 2019, during a game against Cincinnati at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis. © Max Gersh / The Commercial Appeal Memphis' Damonte Coxie (10) looks back while running the ball after making a catch Friday, Nov. 29, 2019, during a game against Cincinnati at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis.

Because we're witnessing history as it happens. Just think of all this team has accomplished, or could accomplish in just a week's time.

The Tigers have won 11 games for the first time in program history. They're one win from the program's first outright conference championship game since 1969 and the biggest bowl game this program has ever experienced. They're hosting the AAC championship game for the first time next Saturday against this very same Cincinnati. 

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They're delivering on almost every preseason expectation, and they still want more.

All of that didn't happen because of that one play because Norvell stayed aggressive when other coaches might not have. But it is why we are where we are now.

Never mind the stakes of the situation. Never mind what conventional wisdom would have suggested. Never mind Norvell's questionable decision to go for it on fourth-and-2 when he could have kicked a field goal just a few minutes earlier.

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This is who Norvell is and this is how much he believes in this team.

That bowl game, that one last win, it won't validate Norvell or this team. That's already done. This is the most complete team Memphis has fielded during its six-year resurgence.

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This team beat Ole Miss by scoring 15 points to begin the season, but then ended up fielding a top-10 offense. And Friday encapsulated all of that. 

It featured Chris Claybrooks taking the opening kickoff back for a touchdown, more than 400 yards of offense and a defense that took control of the second half.

The 36,472 in attendance seemed to recognize that, breaking out a thunderous "Let's go Tigers" chant with less than four minutes to go, right before Antonio Gibson iced this game with one last touchdown run.

"You can’t be a great team if you just have a good side of the ball, or a couple of good players," Norvell said.

Two teams playing in back-to-back weeks with a league title hanging in the balance has happened three times before, including each of the past two seasons.

Mike Norvell stays true to himself with gutsy call as Memphis gets back to AAC title game | Giannotto

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In 2012, Stanford beat UCLA by 18 in their regular-season finale but needed a fourth-quarter comeback to win the Pac-12 championship game. 

In 2017, Boise State and Fresno State played twice in a row. Fresno State won the regular-season finale and Boise State came back the next week and won the Mountain West Conference championship game.

Last year, Middle Tennessee State and UAB went through this and it's the only time both games were played in the same location (Murfreesboro). In this instance, MTSU won the regular-season finale and UAB turned around and won the Conference USA championship game. 

Which is all just to point out that Friday's seesaw affair might not be an indication of what's to come next Saturday. 

So the postgame celebration was different than the past two years. It was muted by design, Norvell said, because "we're not done." 

“We know that that was a great accomplishment and it was great for the fans and for the program," Coxie said. "But there’s another that we want."

They all believe there's more to accomplish.

 You can reach Commercial Appeal columnist Mark Giannotto via email at mgiannotto@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter: @mgiannotto

This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: Mike Norvell stays true to himself with gutsy call as Memphis gets back to AAC title game | Giannotto

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