Oct. 12, 2013
NEW ORLEANS - Senior wide receiver Ryan Grant hauled in a pair of overtime touchdown passes from redshirt-freshman quarterback Devin Powell, and preseason All-American Cairo Santos tied a school record with five field goals, as the Tulane University football team defeated Conference USA rival East Carolina in triple overtime, 36-33, on Saturday afternoon in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
While equaling the Green Wave record originally set by Bart Baldwin against Rice on Sept. 10, 1994 and tied by Brad Palazzo vs. Louisville on Oct. 11, 1997, none of Santos' kicks were bigger than his 42-yarder on the final play of the contest as Tulane posted its first win over the Pirates since the 2003 season finale. The victory was the third in a row by the Green Wave - the longest streak since 2004 - as Tulane improved to 5-2 on the year and remained perfect in C-USA play at 3-0. East Carolina, meanwhile, fell to 4-2 overall and 2-1 in league action.
"It's a great victory," second-year Tulane head coach Curtis Johnson said. "I just have to take my hats off to these coaches. Whatever we are paying them, we aren't paying them enough. They just keep these guys together. We lost our quarterback (Nick Montana), we lost our running back (Orleans Darkwa), we lost (offensive lineman) Chris Taylor, it was just one after another. We ended up having a MASH unit by the end of this game.
"We got the momentum, we lost the momentum, and these coaches just kept these guys together. All of a sudden, we are in a battle in overtime and we just kept plugging away. Our kicker is sensational. We have the best kicker in the country."
The Green Wave held a 19-9 lead with 9:10 left to play in the fourth quarter, but East Carolina rallied with a 26-yard Warren Harvey field goal and a two-yard touchdown run by Vintavious Cooper to tie the game 7:22 later. The Pirates had a chance to win the game on the final snap of regulation, but Harvey's 42-yard kick sailed wide left to give the Green Wave new life.
The red-hot East Carolina offense - which finished the day with 543 yards, including 480 through the air - picked up where it left off in the initial overtime and scored on the very first play as Shane Carden connected with Reese Wiggins for a 25-yard touchdown strike to put the Pirates on top, 26-19.
After failing to reach the endzone during regulation play, the Tulane offense got things going in the extra periods. The Green Wave tied the score on their initial drive of overtime when Powell found Grant for a 25-yard score of his own, and the duo put Tulane on top 33-26 with a six-yard touchdown catch and throw on the opening drive of the second OT. East Carolina tied the game on the ensuing possession when Cooper ran in from two yards out, but Tulane held on the opening drive of what proved to be the final stanza of the ballgame and Harvey - who finished with four field goals but missed a 46-yard attempt earlier in the contest - was off target on a 34-yard try.
Johnson wasted little time deciding what his team should do and sent the field goal unit on with the Green Wave taking over first-and-10 at the ECU 25. Santos' kick split the uprights and the celebration was on.
"As a kicker, you always like the games that you kick a lot and it was actually a lot of fun going out there," Santos said. "If it came down to me, I just want to win for my team and I did it for them. They did a hell of a job throughout the whole game, offense and defense. Devin Powell really stepped up and won the game. I really liked that I had the opportunity to help my team out."
Starting in place of the injured Nick Montana, Powell posted career highs across the board with 224 yards and a pair of scores on 23-of-39 passing. Grant finished with 90 yards and two touchdowns on six catches, while junior wideout Justyn Shackleford led the team with seven receptions. Junior tailback Orleans Darkwa paced the ground game with 56 yards on 12 carries.
Defensively, the Green Wave tallied season highs with six sacks among 15 tackles for loss - the most by a Tulane team since logging 16 stops behind the line of scrimmage against SMU on Sept. 24, 2005 - and held the Pirates to 63 rushing yards on 35 carries. Junior strong safety Sam Scofield led the unit with 13 tackles (10 solo, 3 assists) while sophomore free safety Darion Monroe was next with 10 (9 solo, 1 assist).
Senior nickelback Derrick Strozier scored Tulane's lone touchdown in regulation, picking off a Carden pass at the Green Wave one-yard line and returning it 99 yards for the score. He added eight tackles (5 solo, 3 assists) and a pair of pass break-ups to his line score, and senior cornerback Jordan Sullen led the secondary with three batted balls.
It was all field goals early on as Harvey and Santos each split the uprights in both the first and second quarters to make it 6-6 at the break. A 42-yard kick by Santos on Tulane's second drive of the third quarter put Tulane on top 9-6, and Strozier's pick-six made it a 10-point affair at 16-6 with 3:58 left to play in the period.
Harvey cut the East Carolina deficit to seven courtesy of a 26-yard field goal eight seconds into the fourth quarter, and Santos' boot at the 9:10 mark set up the Pirates' comeback and the overtime dramatics.
"I think this was just another game that we showed that we can come out and play well," Johnson added. "When you say `what's the benchmark,' I think you have to look back at the season as we get going. When this season is over, with whatever it is we do, we may look back and say that that was the turning point. But right now, we have a week off, we have to breathe a little bit and we have to get some guys healthy."
Carden completed 41-of-55 passes for 480 yards with a touchdown and an interception. His favorite target on the day was Justin Hardy, who set a school-record with 230 yards on 17 catches, and Cooper led the ECU rushing effort with 87 yards and two scores on 22 carries. Zeek Bigger and Chip Thompson shared team-high tackle honors with seven each.
The Green Wave will enjoy an open date next weekend and return to action on Saturday, Oct. 26, when they play host to C-USA foe Tulsa at 2:30 p.m. in the Superdome. For tickets to that game, 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.