MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Navy ended whatever debate existed regarding where Memphis should be slotted in the College Football Playoff rankings.
Chris Swain ran for 108 yards and three touchdowns and the Midshipmen upset Memphis (No. 13 CFP, No. 15 AP) 45-20 on Saturday night, ending the Tigers' winning streak at 15 games.
"I can't remember -- off the top of my head -- any bigger (win)," Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said before referring to Notre Dame and games against Army and Air Force. "It was a huge win for us."
Navy (7-1, 5-0 American Athletic) ended the Tigers' perfect season, dropped them from the top of the West Division and jeopardized their No. 15 ranking and 13th spot in the College Football Playoff poll. There was much discussion after the CFP rankings were released whether Memphis (8-1, 4-1) was not given a fair shake or ranked too high.
The Midshipmen remained tied with Houston atop the West Division. Navy has lost only twice in the last 15 games -- both to Notre Dame.
"This is huge beating a ranked team on the road," quarterback Keenan Reynold said. "A huge division game. We knew what we had to do to win. The defense got us a lot of turns and played their tails off. Holding that offense to 20 points is not an easy task."
DeBrandon Sanders ran for 82 yards and Navy's triple-option rushing attack had 374 yards against a Memphis defense that had only allowed 118.8 yards a game.
But it was a 75-yard scoring pass from Reynolds to Sanders with 6:43 left in the third quarter that gave the Midshipmen the lead for good at 24-17. The pass came on the first play from scrimmage after Memphis tied it at 17.
"They run a lot better and are a lot more athletic than anyone gives them credit for," Memphis coach Justin Fuente said. "They kicked our tail. ... They are a nightmare."
The Midshipmen beat a Top 15 team for the first time since Nov. 17, 1984, against then-No. 2 South Carolina, and accomplished the feat on the road for the first time since Sept. 21, 1974, against then-No. 8 Penn State.
Memphis' Paxton Lynch was 26 of 42 for 305 yards, but threw an interception, one of three Tigers turnovers. He entered the game with only one interception on the season.
Navy held Memphis, which entered the game averaging 47.9 points and 560 yards of offense, to 438 yards.
"You can't play a team like this and turn the ball over like we did," Lynch said.
Navy cornerback Quincy Adams credited the offense with not only scoring, but avoiding turnovers and holding the ball. The Midshipmen controlled time of possession with 37 minutes.
"Whenever they're on the field so long, and we get ahead it makes it easier to frustrate the other team. With less possessions, they knew they had to score and throw the ball," Adams said.
In addition to Swain's scores and Sanders' scoring reception, Calvin Cass scored on an 8-yard run in the fourth quarter and Demond Brown added a 1-yard touchdown run to close the scoring.
Reynolds, tied with former Wisconsin star Montee Ball for the most career rushing touchdowns in NCAA history at 77, did not score.
Reynolds gave Navy the lead early in the third quarter by crossing up the defense that was concentrating on the run with the long pass to Sanders. That came after Memphis had a 15-play drive, capped by a 1-yard run by Anthony Miller that tied it at 17.
The game's first two possessions played according to script with Memphis striking first and quickly through the air, covering 85 yards in just four plays, the final 11 on a pass from Lynch to Miller. The Midshipmen answered with a 9-minute drive over 75 yards, all on the ground. Swain scored from 3 yards.
Swain scored on a 2-yard run in the second quarter, and Austin Grebe's 44-yard field goal closed out the half with Navy leading 17-10.
Lynch was 15 of 25 for 198 yards in the half, but Navy linebacker Anthony Gonzales picked off a pass to set up Grebe's field goal as time expired in the half.
"It feeds the program," Gonzales said about the victory. "The excitement of the game, the magnitude of the game, everything that came into it. It shows where Navy football is at."
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