10 (more) memorable Tulane football upsets

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Tyjae Spears
(Photo: Parker Waters)

The Tulane Green Wave is unbeaten for the first time through three games in football. It last happened in 1998.

In fact, it’s only the fourth occasion Tulane has started 3-0 in modern times. The 1973 Wave won six straight to start that season and the 1974 team followed up with a 5-0 start.

Willie Fritz has his squad primed for a big season.

“This can be a real good season,” said Tulane radio color analyst Steve Barrios, who has spent 40 years at the microphone for Green Wave broadcasts.

The upcoming matchup at home against Southern Miss brings more intrigue than the home team’s record. Golden Eagles head coach Will Hall spent two seasons on Willow Street as the Green Wave offensive coordinator. “He is familiar with this team,” Barrios warned.

Tulane is a 13-point favorite this week but they want to avoid a letdown trap after the stellar effort on the road against K-State. The Wave know what underdogs can do, pulling off a surprise 17-10 upset win over a two-touchdown favorite.

In program history, Tulane teams have beaten the odds before as a prohibitive underdog. Let’s reflect on 10 such instances in no particular order.

December 12, 1970 in the Liberty Bowl: Tulane defeated Colorado, 17-3, as a 14-point underdog.

The Buffaloes allegedly demonstrated little respect for their opponents when encountering them on the streets of Memphis leading up to gametime.

“We would run into (Colorado players) out in the night life,” recalled Barrios, a member of that special Green Wave squad. “They underestimated us. The defense played super. Cliff Branch (Pro Football Hall of Famer) did not catch a pass. The secondary consisting of Joe Bullard, Paul Ellis and Davis Hebert intercepted 28 passes that season.”

Running back David Abercrombie ran for a pair of scores. Linebacker Rick Kingrea, who racked up 171 tackles that season, intercepted a pass and returned it 44 yards to set up a score. Lee Gibson converted on a 19-yard field goal. Colorado entered the contest averaging 423 yards and 30.6 points per game. The Wave defense held them to 175 yards and a lone field goal.

December 1, 1973, vs. LSU: Tulane blanked the 15th-ranked Tigers, 14-0

LSU had not lost in the series in a quarter-century, and the Tigers were headed to the Orange Bowl for a game against Heisman winner John Cappelletti and Penn State. With 86,598 fans squeezed into Tulane Stadium, the home team held the advantage all yardage categories and held LSU to just 220 on the night.

Tulane backup quarterback Terry Looney connected with tight end Darwin Willie for a 36-yard touchdown with 19 seconds remaining until halftime. Running back Doug Bynum set up the other score with a 53-yard scamper in the fourth quarter. LSU only reached Tulane red zone twice. Both teams finished with identical 9-2 records. Tulane headed to the Astro-Bluebonnet Bowl against Houston.

November 10, 1990 at Syracuse: Tulane as a 14-point underdog won, 26-24

Dick MacPherson’s final Syracuse squad went on to win seven games and the Aloha Bowl. Talented players on that team included center John Flanery (second round pick by Houston), wideout Rob Moore (first round by N.Y. Jets) and linebacker Terry Wooden (second round by Seattle). The Greenies made a late push in the third quarter.

“Tulane … made a comeback,” Barrios recalled. “Quarterback Deron Smith had to convert a third and 12 and fourth and 16 on the game’s final drive. With 22 ticks remaining, he connected with Steve Ballard to win it.”

October 9, 1971, at No. 18 North Carolina: Tulane prevails 37-29

Tulane only notched three wins that season but this one was one to remember. The 18th-ranked Tar Heels were coached by Bill Dooley. Barrios, a wide receiver on that Wave squad, Was a 2000 inductee into the Tulane Hall of Fame and still holds the school mark with the highest average per catch for a career at 19.95 yards per catch. After some tough times, he had a big day in Chapel Hill.

“I had separated my shoulder in camp and missed the first four games. That week I had to decide whether to play that season or redshirt,” said Barrios. Tulane was glad he gave it a go. He snared three Mike Walker offerings for 111 yards and a pair of touchdowns (58 and 42 yards). Coleman “Long Gone” Dupre returned a kickoff 100 yards for another score.

“Coleman was upset because he said I upstaged him,” Barrios said with a good chuckle.

September 19, 1970, vs. 19th-ranked Georgia: Tulane wins 17-14

The Green Wave were blanked on the road the year prior “between the hedges,” 35-0. Tulane coach Jim Pittman was in his final season and his team entered the second week of the season on a sour note.

“We had just lost to Texas Tech, 21-14, the week before and were fired up,” Barrios stated. “Rick Kingrea and Ray Hester, our linebackers, had the defense fired up.”

The Green Wave’s fire was on display when a bench-clearing brawl broke out. Barrios attempted a crackback block on a Bulldog defender who objected to the move. His retaliation in front of the Tulane bench led to Georgia players crossing the field.

A key play occurred late in the game when Tulane punter Ken Sanders was ready to put foot to football but found a UGA rusher in his face. Unfazed, Sanders simply hesitated and sidestepped the defender, lofting a spiral downfield. The Green Wave held on for the satisfying victory.

November 27, 1982, at 12th-ranked LSU: 28½-point underdog Tulane pulls the 31-28 upset

The Tigers were guaranteed another Orange Bowl appearance, set to face No. 3 Nebraska. Jerry Stovall’s team was loaded with NFL talent like Leonard Marshall, Alan Risher, Dalton Hilliard, Garry James, Jeffrey Dale and James Britt.

Legendary high school coach Frank Monica was the running backs coach on Vince Gibson’s Tulane staff at the time. The visitors were hoping to lull the Tigers to sleep during pre-game warmups.

“We were silent, low key, no clapping. We just went through the motions until game time,” Monica recounted. “Every score LSU had, we answered. Garry James raced 80 yards for a touchdown in the opening series. But we came back.”

Tulane’s Mike McKay, not known as a long tosser, stayed with the short passing game. He had success with short throws to take advantage of an aggressive LSU defense that blitzed 27 times. Monica exclaimed, “They would not stop blitzing!”

Late in the contest facing a fourth-down blitz, McKay lofted a swing pass in the flat to fullback Reggie Reginelli, who raced 31 yards for the winning score.

WGNO: Flashback Friday

It was 37 years ago this week when Tulane Football pulled off a huge upset in Baton Rouge thanks to Mike McKay’s fourth-down TD pass to Reggie Reginelli …

Posted by WGNO Sports on Friday, November 29, 2019

October 2, 1965, vs. Miami (Fla.): Tulane was a 24-16 winner in a rough overall season

Hurricane Betsy, a Category 4 storm, arrived Sept. 9, 1965 and forced the season opener to be moved to Austin, Texas for the game against the No. 2 Longhorns. The Wave was blanked in that game and then shut out by Alabama. The Hurricanes were not ranked when they stormed into the Crescent City but Miami had some impressive results that season, defeating No. 9 Syracuse, 24-0, before their visit to Tulane Stadium. Later, the ‘Canes downed No. 10 Florida, 16-13, and tied No. 6 Notre Dame, 0-0.

Sophomore Bobby Duhon was moved from safety to quarterback for Tulane against Texas. The lefty from Abbeville accounted for two touchdown passes, including a 71-yarder to junior Lanis O’Steen in the upset.

Sept. 8, 1979, vs. 13th-ranked Stanford: Tulane’s season opener was a strong 33-10 victory

The Cardinal was a favorite but Tulane coach Larry Smith would direct his troops to a 9-3 mark that year. The Green Wave offense had playmakers like quarterback Roch Hontas, wideout Alton Alexis, tight end Rodney Holman and running back Marvin Christian. The offensive mastermind was coordinator Lindy Infante.

Stanford starting QB Turk Schonert lasted until the fourth quarter when he bowed out to a true freshman playing in his very first college football game. However, John Elway was did not come to the rescue on this day. The Greenies were led defensively by linebacker Frank Robinson, who had 137 tackles on the season, and defensive lineman Bob Becnel, who managed six sacks that year.

October 18, 1958, vs. sixth-ranked Navy in Norfolk, Va.: Tulane won the Oyster Bowl, 14-6

The Midshipmen had beaten No. 14 Michigan 20-14 the week before. Led by quarterback Joe Tranchini and sophomore running back Joe Bellino, the 1960 Heisman Trophy winner, Navy was a tough out. Tulane countered with quarterback/safety Richie Petitbon and running back Boo Mason. Petitbon contributed 916 yards and eight scores on offense and four interceptions on defense in ’58.

Green Wave running backs Tom McClellan and Eddie Dunn had stellar performances to outduel the Navy ground attack.

September 23, 1972, vs. 16th ranked Georgia: Tulane, a 17-point underdog, surprised the Bulldogs at home again, 24-13

UGA took a 7-0 lead on a 7-yard run by junior Jimmy Poulos in the first quarter. He added another score in the fourth period but it was not enough.

The Green Wave orchestrated a pair of 80-yard touchdown drives. Mike Walker scrambled for a 6-yard score and later connected on a 17-yard pass to freshman Jaime Garza. Defensive back George Ewing had a 57-yard punt return for a touchdown and senior Lee Gibson tacked on a 35-yard field goal.

The win was crucial for Tulane to end the season with a winning record at 6-5.

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Rene Nadeau


Born and raised in the New Orleans area, Rene Nadeau has been involved in sports ever since his earliest memories. Rene played basketball, wrestled, ran track, and was an All-District running back in football at John F. Kennedy High School. He went on to be a member of the LSU football program, developing a passion for the game in even…

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