Tulane gets head-start on Nate, then keeps building with 62-28 win over Tulsa
NEW ORLEANS — It was as if Tulane knew what was coming and couldn’t wait to get it started.
The Green Wave moved the kickoff time for their game against Tulsa on Saturday in Yulman Stadium from 3 p.m. to 11 a.m., then to 10 a.m. to try and get the game over with before Hurricane Nate reached the New Orleans area.
But Tulane also was eager to follow up its last-minute 21-17 victory against Army, which second-year coach Willie Fritz and players suggested might become a significant step forward for the rebuilding program.
Late in the week, Nate kept picking up speed and gaining strength and when the game kicked off, Tulane looked speedier and stronger than it had in a long time.
The Green Wave scored touchdowns on all seven of their first-half possessions, racing to a 48-7 lead on their way to a 62-28 thrashing of their American Athletic Conference West division rival, scoring their second-most points ever in a conference game.
Tulane improved to 3-2 and 1-1 in the American as whispers of potential bowl eligibility started wafting across campus while giddy fans dispersed to wait out Nate.
They had last seen the Green Wave two weeks earlier when Jonathan Banks led Tulane on a 19-play, 75-yard drive during which it converted three fourth downs and two third downs on its way to the winning touchdown with 23 seconds left.
Then came an open date so the first indicator of whether that victory would have a lasting impact came Saturday and Tulane played a like a team following a reasonably straight line forward rather than the one step-forward, two step-back journey that rebuilding programs often have to endure.
“We were anxious to get out there,” Banks said.
He wasn’t kidding.
On the Green Wave’s first offensive play, Banks ran 50 yards to set up Dontrell Hilliard’s 1-yard touchdown. On Tulane’s second possession, Hilliard ran 23 yards for a touchdown and later scored on runs of 17 and 43 yards to give him a career-high four touchdowns as well as a career-high 175 yards.
Along the way Banks threw a 62-yard touchdown to Terren Encalade and ran 13 yards for another score. Stephon Huderson ran 2 yards for one score, Darius Bradwell ran 8 for another and Banks’ replacement, Johnathan Brantley, ran 34 yards for Tulane’s final touchdown.
Banks said the kickoff happened at about the time he would have gotten up if the start had remained at 2 p.m. Instead he got up at 5:45 so he could arrive at Fritz’s appointed time of 6.
The Green Wave’s standard practice routine has them getting up at 5:30, having breakfast at 6, getting taped and beginning practice at 8:15.
“So this game time was like period number 20 for us in practice,” Fritz said.
Banks said it was his earliest kickoff “since little league.” It also was believed to be the earliest kickoff time in the modern history of Green Wave football and it suited this team just fine.
“We could have played at 7, we could have played at 3, it didn’t matter,” nose tackle Sean Wilson said.
As for the weather, it wasn’t a factor. There was sporadic, light rain leading up to kickoff. Sustained winds were at 6 miles per hour at kickoff and gusts barely reached the 20s.
The sun even made a few cameo appearances during the game, arguably more than the Tulsa defense made since Tulane held the ball for 43 minutes and 38 seconds while accumulating 488 rushing yards, 653 total yards and 31 first downs.
“Take all of the factors out of it, we’ve still got to be ready to play,” said Tulsa coach Philip Montgomery, whose team fell to 1-5 and 0-2. “We step between the lines and we get 60 minutes to play and the first 30 we weren’t there.”
Nate fizzled too, briefly bringing heavy rain to Yulman around the original kickoff time, but mostly leaving New Orleans unscathed.
By the way, the victory was Fritz’s 200th in 25 seasons as a head coach, which he tried to use to keep his improving, but still growing team grounded.
Fritz noted that legendary John Curtis High School coach J.T. Curtis in nearby River Ridge has 560 career wins.
“So if I win 10 games a year for 36 years and he quits coaching tomorrow I’ll catch him,” Fritz said.
Next up is a trip to Miami to play Florida International with a more traditional kickoff time of 6 p.m., and the Green Wave seem just as eager for their next test.
“We’re on to 201,” Fritz said.
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Les East is a nationally renowned freelance journalist. His blog on SportsNOLA.com was named “Best Sports Blog” in 2016 by the Press Club of New Orleans. For 2013 he was named top sports columnist in the United States by the Society of Professional Journalists and Louisiana Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association. You can follow…