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BOCA RATON, Fla. (AP) — The Western Kentucky Hilltoppers threw to their tackle, ran a trick play from their victory formation and kept scoring touchdowns for Nick Holt, their one-and-done interim coach.
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.
"Coach Holt gave us great energy," Wales said. "We all love him, and we were able to show everybody how great we are."
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 catch-and-run. The Hilltoppers (11-3) totaled 598 yards for 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.
"I told the kids it has been two weeks of some of the happiest football of my life," Holt said. "They don't care really right now who's the head coach. They believe in each other."
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.
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, but they couldn't keep up with the Hilltoppers.
"They're good," Memphis coach Mike Norvell said. "A missed assignment, a bust in communication, and they can expose you."
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 an unbalanced line, caught a lateral and scored for the first touchdown of his career.
"The last time I scored a touchdown was probably in my backyard against my little brother," Lamp said.
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 missed one series with a leg injury when a defender was blocked into him as he threw an interception.
"He'll be fine," Norvell said.
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 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.
"We've got a lot of hope and a lot of confidence in where we're going," Norvell said.
Sanford makes his debut with the Hilltoppers when they open next season at home Sept. 2 against Eastern Kentucky.
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