The Tulane Green Wave kept their post-season hopes alive with a gritty, total team effort versus the Houston Cougars Saturday night in Yulman Stadium. Tulane played innovative, winning football in all three phases to defeat the favored Cougars in a performance Green Wave fans have been waiting two years to see.
Offensively, junior wide receiver Terren Encalde had the 12th best receiving performance in Tulane history with eight catches for 186 yards and a touchdown. Jonathan Banks had a career-high 251 yards passing and the much-maligned Tulane offensive line only yielded one sack to Ed Oliver and the talented Cougar defense.
Tulane held on to the ball for over 36 minutes with Banks as the catalyst for an offense that generated 23 first downs and converted on over 50% of their third down opportunities. Tulane rushed for 166 yards with Banks (68 yards) leading the way while Tulane’s leading rusher, senior running back Dontrell Hilliard, had 52 yards rushing to push him over the 1,000 yard mark for the season. Fellow senior Sherman Badie supplied the only touchdown of the first half on a terrific 16 yard run in the second quarter.
The Green Wave defense played their best game of the season, forcing two turnovers, stopping two fourth down conversions and holding the explosive Cougar offense to only three points in the first half.
Ade Aruna, Sean Wilson, Robert Kennedy and Luke Jackson, all seniors, had big games and made key contributions during the game. Aruna and Jackson both made key plays on fourth downs plays to stop the Houston offense. Senior linebacker Rae Juan Marbley once again led the Green Wave in tackles with eight while Parry Nickerson, playing his final home game, notched his fifth interception of the season to stop a promising Cougar drive in the third quarter.
This victory is indicative of the turnaround that Willie Fritz has been engineering the past two seasons at Tulane. With a strong running game, complemented by an explosive passing attack, a defense which forces turnovers and outstanding special teams forces; Tulane won in all phases Saturday night for the biggest victory of the Fritz era.
Saturday’s victory now sets up a season finale with SMU which can propel Tulane to the ranks of bowl eligible teams for the first time since 2013. Houston, meanwhile, will host Navy on Friday, November 24th for a post-Thanksgiving showdown.