Banks delivers in clutch game-winning drive for Tulane
NEW ORLEANS – It was a game-defining drive. It could be a season-defining drive.
If Tulane’s 2017 football season produces any measure of success, the game-winning touchdown drive in Saturday’s 21-17 victory over Army West Point could be the turning point. And it has junior quarterback Jonathan Banks to thank.
Banks rushed for 41 yards on the winning drive, including the decisive 4-yard touchdown with 23 seconds left.
“Banks did a tremendous job of improvising, with his arm, with his legs,” Tulane coach Willie Fritz said.
Based on the first 54 1/2 minutes of this sun-splashed Saturday afternoon at Yulman Stadium, to call this drive improbable would be an insult to improbability.
Until then, Tulane’s only offense had come on two big plays – a 75-yard run by Dontrell Hilliard on the first play from scrimmage and a 72-yard scamper by Sherman Badie late in the second quarter, which gave the Wave a 14-10 lead.
When Army took a 17-14 lead with 5:32 remaining on Connor Slomka’s first career touchdown, it was up to Fritz’s offense to either make another big play or sustain its first drive since early last week at Oklahoma.
First things first. The Green Wave needed to be able to move the chains.
When it took the field at its 25 following the Army kickoff, it had only had the football for 33 plays and a little over 15 minutes of possession time, it was 0-for-6 on third down conversions and Banks, playing for the first time in 14 days, had been inconsistent at best.
The drive was nearly over before it started. After a 2-yard run by Banks and two incomplete passes, Tulane faced fourth-and-8 at its 27. Fritz – whose defense had already been on the field for 71 snaps on a warm afternoon – eschewed the thought of punting and playing defense and went for it.
Banks called his own number on a quarterback draw and gained 10, but took a hard hit from Army’s Gibby Gibson at the end of the run and had to leave the game for one play.
Tulane would again face a fourth down on its next series, but Banks threw a strike to Jabril Clewis for 13 yards to the Army 43.
After two incompletions, the Green Wave finally converted a third down when Banks ran for 15 yards. Three plays later, Banks again converted on third down, running for 4 yards on third-and-1 to reach the Black Knights 15 with 1:05 left.
The biggest decision was yet to come, however. An incompletion, a 33-yard run by Hilliard and a 6-yard run by Banks left Fritz with a choice on fourth-and-1 with 47 seconds left: attempt the tying field goal with sophomore Merek Glover, who had never attempted a field goal in college, or go for it yet again?
“We know ahead of time if we’re going for it or not,” said Fritz.
Hilliard converted, moving the ball to the 4. One play later, Banks faked to Hilliard on the read option and kept off the right side for the touchdown.
The final numbers: 19 plays, 75 yards, 5:09 off the clock, three fourth-down conversions and two third-down conversions.
“It’s pretty big, exciting,” said Banks. “When I was growing up, I was always wanting to make the big plays. I really couldn’t run like I wanted to in the first half.”
Banks, a game-time decision after his upper body injury at Navy, is the biggest reason Tulane goes into an off week at 2-2 instead of 1-3.
“Off adrenalin, I feel great right now,” he said moments after the game.
The health answer might be slightly different Sunday morning, but the result on the scoreboard will remain the same. And it could be the result that sends the Green Wave’s season in the right direction.
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Lenny was involved in college athletics starting in the early 1980s, when he began working Tulane University sporting events while still attending Archbishop Rummel High School. He continued that relationship as a student at Loyola University, where he graduated in 1987. For the next 11 years, Vangilder worked in the sports information offices at Southwestern Louisiana (now UL-Lafayette) and Tulane;…