Big Returns, Late Field Goal Lift Football Past North Texas, 24-21

Senior kicker Cairo Santos celebrates with his teammates after nailing a 27-yard field goal as time expired to left Tulane to a 24-21 homecoming win over North Texas.

Senior kicker Cairo Santos celebrates with his teammates after nailing a 27-yard field goal as time expired to left Tulane to a 24-21 homecoming win over North Texas.

Oct. 5, 2013

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NEW ORLEANS - The Green Wave scored touchdowns on a blocked field goal and an interception, and senior kicker Cairo Santos nailed a 27-yard field goal as time expired, as the Tulane University football team celebrated Homecoming 2013 in style with a 24-21 win over Conference USA newcomer North Texas on Saturday afternoon in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Tulane entered the fourth quarter on top 21-7, but the Mean Green rallied to tie the game with a pair of touchdowns - including a 62-yard scoring strike from Derek Thompson to Darnell Smith with 3:45 left to play in regulation. After tallying just 76 yards in the second half going into what proved to be their final possession, the Green Wave offense got it together when it mattered most to churn out an 11-play, 66-yard drive to send the crowd home happy courtesy of Santos' right foot.

"We know (North Texas) is very good and very explosive," second-year Tulane head coach Curtis Johnson said. "You can see that by going back and watching the Georgia game. We talked about that all week long. We knew they were great on special teams. This is the best special teams we've played all year, and I thought that we handled them well.

"Offensively, we struggled somewhat, but this was a good defense. Everybody they played struggled against them. So, all of a sudden, at the end of the game we get the big drive. Our backs played outstanding. We picked up the blocks and the blitz, and I thought it was a good day."

With the win, Tulane improves to 4-2 on the year and 2-0 in C-USA play. The 2013 campaign marks the first time since the 12-0 season of 1998 that the Wave won at least four of their first six games and its first two league contests. North Texas, meanwhile, fell to 2-3 on the season and 0-1 in league action.

Junior quarterback Nick Montana finished 18-of-28 passing for 132 yards and a score, and was a perfect 4-for-4 for 23 yards while adding a 13-yard scramble on the game's final drive. Senior tailback Orleans Darkwa led the Green Wave rushing attack with 44 yards on 16 carries, and senior Ryan Grant paced the team with seven catches for 60 yards.

Defensively, Tulane allowed North Texas to run for just 34 yards on 20 attempts - the second consecutive game the Wave held an opponent to under 50 yards on the ground after limiting ULM to 26 yards on 24 carries in last week's victory - to go with five pass break-ups and a two-interception performance by sophomore cornerback Lorenzo Doss. None were bigger, however, than senior defensive tackle Chris Davenport's tip of a Thompson pass which Doss corralled and returned 59 yards to put Tulane ahead by 14 with 2:50 left to play in the third quarter.

"He can do that," Johnson said of Doss' performance. "As you know, he's a sophomore but he can be that big-play guy. As a true freshman he had five picks, and he may have 10 this year because he's a ball hawk. Sometimes he gambles, which makes me mad, but he's so good that he can gamble. I hope I can keep him for four years because this kid has a bright future ahead of him."

Following a scoreless first quarter, Tulane drew first blood when Montana capped a 12-play, 80-yard drive with a six-yard touchdown pass to junior wideout Justyn Shackleford with 8:06 to play in the second quarter to account for the only score of the first half.

After being held to just 71 yards on 25 plays over the first 30 minutes, the North Texas offense came alive in the third quarter and tied things up at 7-all when left guard Mason Y'Barbo recovered a Thompson goal-line fumble in the endzone on the Mean Green's first possession of the second half.

North Texas was in position to take the lead one drive later as the Mean Green lined up for a 38-yard field goal, but sophomore safety Darion Monroe batted down Zach Paul's kick, senior defensive back Derrick Strozier picked the ball up on a hop and ran 62 yard untouched thanks to a caravan of Green Wave blockers to stake Tulane to a 14-7 lead.

Doss' pick-six four plays later put the Green Wave ahead by two touchdowns, but North Texas refused to go away quietly. Brelan Chancellor sparked the Mean Green's come-back effort with 41-yard return of the ensuing kickoff, and the North Texas offense marched 47 yards on nine plays over the next 3:33 as Thompson's one-yard touchdown pass to Brandin Byrd cut Tulane's lead to 21-14.

The two teams traded punts over the next five possessions and Thompson's toss to Smith tied things up to set up the late-game dramatics.

"Initially, the thing was to get one first down, and then another, and then another," Johnson said of the game-winning drive. "Orleans Darkwa just ran over a couple of guys the first time he got the ball, and that gave us the momentum on the sideline. Nick made a play, Grant made a couple of plays on the drive, and the next thing you know we were going in to kick the field goal.

"The trick of the final drive was to make them use their timeouts - which they did -move the ball to get into field goal range - which we did - and do most of it on the ground -which we accomplished. We accomplished those three things, and we ran the clock down to five seconds, which I know that if we make the kick that will run out the clock."

Strozier and senior linebacker Zach Davis shared the team lead with seven tackles each while sophomore cornerback Jordan Batiste led the team with a pair of pass break-ups. Sophomore defensive end Royce LaFrance had the team's lone sack among five tackles for loss.

Thompson finished the day 29-of-42 passing for 326 yards and two scores while leading the rushing effort with 19 yards on six carries. Smith led all players with eight catches for 130 yards and a score and Chancellor was close behind with seven grabs for 103 yards through the air. Kenny Buyers led the North Texas defense with nine stops (8 solo, 1 assist) while Aaron Bellazin had two of the team's six to help account for the Mean Green's nine tackles for loss.

Tulane returns to action on Saturday, Oct. 12, when the Green Wave play host to C-USA foe East Carolina at 2:30 p.m. in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The game against the Pirates is the second of three consecutive home games for the Wave as Tulane will enjoy a bye before squaring off against league foe Tulsa on Oct. 26.

For tickets to those games, as well as future Green Wave events, contact the Tulane Athletics Ticket Office. The Ticket Office is located on the first floor of the Wilson Center on Ben Weiner Drive, and tickets can be purchased in person weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., over the phone at 504-861-WAVE (9283) or via the Internet at www.TulaneGreenWave.com.