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Conference championships: Memphis takes American; Appalachian State, Boise State win

Memphis quarterback Brady White (3) celebrates as coach Mike Norvell lifts the trophy after the Tigers beat Cincinnati on Saturday.
Memphis quarterback Brady White (3) celebrates as coach Mike Norvell lifts the trophy after the Tigers beat Cincinnati on Saturday.
(Mark Humphrey / Associated Press)

Memphis coach Mike Norvell made his final home game at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium memorable.

Norvell and the Tigers captured the American Athletic Conference championship — after failing the previous two years — as Brady White’s six-yard pass to Antonio Gibson for a touchdown with 1:14 left gave No. 17 Memphis a 29-24 victory over No. 20 Cincinnati on Saturday in Memphis, Tenn.

Florida State will introduce Norvell as its new coach Sunday, two people with direct knowledge of the decision told the Associated Press. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because the official announcement had not been made.

As for Norvell, he wasn’t tipping his hand regarding his future. Instead, the Memphis coach directed all of his postgame comments to his team.

No. 2 LSU locked up a spot in the College Football Playoff for the first time, dominating No. 4 Georgia 37-10 in the SEC championship game.
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“We knew this was going to be a game that was going to come down to responses,” Norvell said. “How we responded to adversity. How we responded to success at times. But that’s the character and the heart of these kids.”

On the game-winning scoring drive, Norvell leaned on Gibson, who capped the march corralling the touchdown pass. Gibson was the workhorse during the drive, carrying the ball five straight times for 23 yards, giving Memphis (12-1) third and goal from the Bearcats’ six-yard line.

On the play, Gibson split right instead of lining up in the backfield. He came in motion, caught the screen pass from White and, with three blockers in front of him, skirted in for the winning touchdown.

Gibson ran for 130 yards, including a 65-yard touchdown dash.

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Cincinnati (10-3) had taken a 24-23 lead with 4:23 left on Sam Crosa’s 33-yard field goal. That gave Memphis the ball back with plenty of time.

Desmond Ridder threw for 233 yards and ran for 113 more for the Bearcats.

Sun Belt

Moments after his team won its second consecutive Sun Belt Conference championship game, Appalachian State coach Eli Drinkwitz continued to set the bar higher.

“It better be the Cotton Bowl!” Drinkwitz told fans on the field at Kidd Brewer Stadium when asked where he thought his team should play next.

Darrynton Evans scored three touchdowns as 21st-ranked Appalachian State won its fourth straight Sun Belt championship overall with a 45-38 victory over Louisiana-Lafayette in Boone, N.C. Evans was named the game’s most valuable player for the second season in a row.

Trevor Lawrence threw four touchdown passes, and No. 3 Clemson won its fifth consecutive ACC title with a 62-17 victory over No. 23 Virginia.

Zac Thomas threw for 149 yards and two touchdowns, and Daetrich Harrington and Marcus Williams added touchdown runs. The Mountaineers racked up 416 yards of offense, including 267 on the ground — most of those in a dominating first half.

Drinkwitz set the goal of repeating as champions since taking over as head coach earlier this season after Scott Satterfield left for Louisville.

The Mountaineers (12-1, 8-1 Sun Belt) accomplished something North Carolina, Duke, North Carolina State and Wake Forest never have — becoming the first Football Bowl Subdivision team from North Carolina to win 12 games in a season.

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Mountain West

Jaylon Henderson threw for 220 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another score to lead No. 19 Boise State to a 31-10 victory over Hawaii in the Mountain West championship game in Boise, Idaho.

Boise State (12-1) won its second conference title in three years, beating Hawaii again this season after winning the Oct. 12 meeting 59-37. After rolling up 518 yards of offense in the first game, the Broncos leaned on their defense in the rematch.

The Broncos made two defensive stands inside the five-yard line, once in the second quarter and another early in the third.

Hawaii (9-5) was making its first appearance in the title game. It enjoyed some success through the air with Cole McDonald passing for 241 yards but couldn’t overcome early problems in the red zone.

Henderson, a senior who began the season as the third string quarterback on the depth chart, started the final four games of the season after both Hank Bachmeier and Chase Cord suffered injuries.

The offense didn’t seem to miss a beat with him at the helm.

Conference USA

Facing fourth and goal very early in a scoreless game, Lane Kiffin did not even hesitate in his call to leave his Florida Atlantic offense on the field.

What a rebel.

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No, really. He’s off to Ole Miss — to coach the Rebels.

FAU (10-3) turned that decision into a touchdown and kept rolling from there, going on to a surprisingly easy 49-6 win over Alabama Birmingham (9-4) in the Conference USA championship game in Boca Raton, Fla. Chris Robison threw for 267 yards and four touchdowns, BJ Emmons ran for a pair of scores, and the Owls — in Kiffin’s finale — sent their coach off with his second league title in three years.

Kiffin resigned shortly after the game, and Mississippi announced his hire minutes later.

Mid-American Conference

Brett Gabbert threw a 31-yard touchdown pass to Jack Sorenson early in the third quarter, and Miami of Ohio controlled most of the second half, beating Central Michigan 26-21 in the Mid-American Conference title game in Detroit.

The RedHawks (8-5) won a record 16th MAC championship despite doing little on offense in the first half. Trailing 14-10 after two quarters, Miami took the lead on Gabbert’s screen pass to Sorenson, and the RedHawks held off CMU (8-5) the rest of the way to win their first conference title since 2010.

Sam Sloman kicked four field goals, including a 48-yarder with 4:06 remaining to give Miami a 23-14 lead. CMU’s Tommy Lazzaro scored on a four-yard run with 1:24 remaining, and the Chippewas recovered an onside kick — but were called offside. CMU was offside again on the re-kick, but it went out of bounds anyway and Miami took over.

Sloman added a 42-yard field goal with 28 seconds left.


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