NEW ORLEANS (12/16/03) Junior running back Patrick Cobbs rushed for 110 yards and scored two second-half touchdowns to highlight a comeback effort by North Texas that fell short in a 27-17 loss to Memphis in the third annual New Orleans Bowl on Tuesday.
Making their third straight appearance in the New Orleans Bowl, the Mean Green (9-4) had to fight back after falling behind early and twice pulled to within 10 points before the Tigers (9-4) -- playing in their first bowl game in 32 years secured the win with a field goal with 2:26 left to play.
Cobbs, who set the school record for career rushing TDs (30) with his two scores, got the Mean Green to within 10 points with his scoring runs of 35 and two yards in the second half. But each time Memphis responded with points of its own, scoring a TD after Cobbs’ first score and a field goal following his second touchdown.
Memphis rode the powerfully accurate arm of junior quarterback Danny Wimprine, who was named the game’s Most Valuable Player after completing 17 of 23 passes for 254 yards and one TD. He also ran for another Memphis touchdown.
After managing just a field goal in the first half, North Texas’s sluggish offense started to click in the third quarter. But it wasn’t until the Mean Green’s final possession of the period that NT was able to break through the Memphis defense for a touchdown.
After a Scott Hall 25-yard pass play to Johnny Quinn on a third-and-12, the Mean Green cut the score to 17-10 when Cobbs took a pitch to the left side and raced 35 yards for a touchdown with 0:13 on the clock.
On its next possession, however, Memphis came back and drove 62 yards with eight plays and went up 24-10 after running back Lakendus Cole scored from five yards out.
North Texas battled back on its next series, with Hall passing 45 yards to Andy Blount and 37 yards to Ja’Mel Branch to set up a two-yard touchdown run by Cobbs with 7:13 left in the game that cut the score to 24-17.
The 86-yard scoring drive was the longest in the three-year history of the New Orleans Bowl game.
Memphis came back on its next possession and drove 43 yards with 11 plays, eating up 4:47 on the clock, before Stephen Gostkowski hit his second field goal of the game from 32 yards out.
North Texas found itself in a 17-3 hole at halftime after Memphis erased an early 3-0 Mean Green and took advantage of Wimprine’s passing and an NT turnover.
The Mean Green scored on the game’s opening drive, using 10 plays to move 51 yards before Nick Bazaldua came on to connect on a 47-yard field goal with 9:44 on the clock. It was second longest field goal of Bazaldua’s two-year career.
NT’s lead didn’t last long, however, as Memphis struck on its first possession of the game. Wimprine sparked the drive with a 63-yard pass completion to wide receiver Darren Garcia that gave the Tigers the ball on the NT six-yard line. Three plays later Wimprine ran seven yards up the middle on a quarterback sneak to score. The extra point kick gave Memphis a 7-3 lead with 6:57 left in the first quarter.
Memphis had an opportunity to get three more points early in the second quarter, but a 41-yard field goal try by Gostkowski hit the right upright and was no good.
Wimprine, however, engineered Memphis’ second touchdown drive of the first half with another long pass setting up the score. A 50-yard connection between Wimprine and wide receiver Mario Pratcher set the Tigers up at the NT 14-yard line. From there Memphis moved down to the 10 before Wimprine hit Chris Kelly for a 10-yard touchdown pass play.
On the following kickoff, NT’s Kevin Moore returned the kick eights yard deep in the end zone and wound up fumbling it away at the Mean Green seven-yard line. Four plays later, Gostkowski was good on a 21-yard field goal to give the Tigers a 17-3 halftime advantage.
The nationally-televised game, the first of the bowl season, was viewed by a bowl record crowd of 25,184 at the Superdome.