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BOCA RATON, Fla. (AP) – Senior Anthony Wales gained 329 yards from scrimmage and Western Kentucky earned a bowl victory for the third year in a row by beating Memphis 51-31 Tuesday night in the Boca Raton Bowl.
Wales ran for a career-high 245 yards on 35 carries, added 84 yards on four catches and scored three times.
Teammate Mike White threw for 336 yards and three touchdowns. Taywan Taylor had nine catches for 144 yards and his 17th touchdown of the season.
Oddsmakers had projected the game to be the highest-scoring of the bowl season, and even Western Kentucky left tackle Forrest Lamp got into the act, scoring on a 9-yard razzle-dazzle run. The Hilltoppers (11-3) totaled 598 yards for interim head coach Nick Holt, who was filling in after coach Jeff Brohm left this month to become coach at Purdue.
Notre Dame offensive coordinator Mike Sanford was chosen over Holt as Brohm’s replacement next season, and attended the game.
It was another successful finale for the Hilltoppers, who won the Miami Beach Bowl last year and the Bahamas Bowl in 2014. Memphis (8-5) lost in a bowl game for the second consecutive year.
The Tigers’ Riley Ferguson threw for 372 yards and four scores. He missed one series with a leg injury when a defender was blocked into him as he threw an interception.
Holt, the defensive coordinator during the regular season, oversaw some creative play calling.
The Hilltoppers scored their second touchdown when Lamp, their 300-pound senior tackle, retreated from the line of scrimmage to take a lateral and scored for the first touchdown of his career.
With 45 seconds left in the first half, the Hilltoppers lined up in the victory formation as if running out the clock. Instead Wales swept around left end for a 53-yard gain, but Western Kentucky failed to capitalize, throwing an interception on the next play.
Ferguson set a school season record with 32 touchdown passes. Anthony Miller had a career-high three touchdown catches and increased his season total to 14, a school record.
Jake Elliott kicked four extra points to finish 202 for 202 in his career, extending a streak of successful kicks that’s the nation’s longest. He did miss a 43-yard field goal try when it hit the left upright.
This year Mike Norvell became the third coach in Memphis history to achieve a winning record in his first season, and has built a strong foundation. The Tigers open the 2017 season at home Sept. 2 against Louisiana-Monroe.
Sanford makes his debut with the Hilltoppers when they open next season at home Sept. 2 against Eastern Kentucky.
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