Tulane's Fourth Quarter Comeback Falls Short at UTEP, 24-20

Justyn Shackelford

Oct. 21, 2012

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EL PASO - Tulane senior quarterback Ryan Griffin threw for 363 yards and two touchdowns and junior running back Orleans Darkwa rushed for 61 yards, but it was not enough as the Green Wave fell short in its fourth quarter comeback bid at UTEP, 24-20, in front of 23,234 at the Sun Bowl.

Tulane (1-6, 1-2 C-USA) trailed the entire game but looked to have new life during the final minutes after freshman safety Darion Monroe recovered a fumble by UTEP's LaQuintus Dowell on its own 31-yard line with 2:56 remaining in the game.

Looking to duplicate last week's last minute comeback against SMU, Griffin completed a short pass to sophomore running back on first down, but misfired on his next two attempts, setting up decisive 4th and nine. On what would be Tulane's final play of the game, Griffin heaved a pass down field to sophomore receiver Xavier Rush but UTEP's Jamie Irving broke up the pass. UTEP then ran out the clock and improved to 2-6 overall and 2-1 in Conference USA play.

"It was very frustrating that we couldn't get touchdowns and had to settle for field goals tonight," Tulane head coach Curtis Johnson. "But we still had a chance at the end but their defense played great and we came up short. They made great adjustments after half time and executed better on defense. We are a young football team and we can't afford to turn the ball over. That was one of our keys to winning tonight's game. We did it and it really hurt us."

The second half was a complete opposite of the first. After a scoring frenzy by both teams in the first 30 minutes, neither team scored in the third quarter. For Tulane the third quarter was a 15-minute period of missed opportunities.

On its opening possession of the third quarter, Tulane took the ball at its own 14-yard line and drove57 yards in eight plays. Griffin connected on all five of his passing attempts, including a seven-yard hook-up with Rush that gave the Wave a first and 10 at the UTEP 20-yard line. However, on the ensuing play, freshman Josh Rounds mishandled a handoff from Griffin and the ball squirted free and the Miners recovered.

The Green Wave defense forced the Miners to punt and Tulane then took over on its own 20-yard line. Once again, Tulane seemed to move the ball at will against the UTEP defense. Using a 13-play drive, Griffin passed the TU offense down to the UTEP 39-yard line. Griffin hit sophomore receiver Marc Edwards on a short pass for five yards on first down, but the offense stumbled and Griffin failed to hook up with Edwards on slant pattern on a fourth and six play and gave the ball back to the Miners on downs.

"We had some costly mistakes that really hurt us tonight," Griffin said. "We can't turn the ball over and we did and then late in the game we didn't execute on third and fourth down opportunities. It was very frustrating not to come away with more on our first three drives of the second half. We had some very long drives and only got points on one possession. It's always good to get points but we have to score touchdowns."

After another stop by the TU defense to begin the fourth quarter, the scoring drought was broken when junior Cairo Santos connected on his 10th straight field goal of the year with a 37-yard boot at the 8:35 mark to bring Tulane to within four points, 24-20, but those would prove to be the final points of the game for the Green Wave.

Griffin finished the night 28-of-44 for 363 yards and two touchdowns. Shackleford and Grant each hauled in six receptions apiece and both went over the 100-yard receiving plateau. Shackleford led the way with a career-high 130 yards and a score, while Grant had 115 yards and a touchdown.

Defensively, senior linebacker Darryl Farley paced the Green Wave defenders with 10 tackles, while Monroe and senior cornerback Ryan Travis each had nine apiece.

Griffin was solid in the first half, completing 11-of-18 attempts for 220 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Five of his 11 completions covered 20+ yards, including a long of 45 yards down the middle to Shackleford in the second quarter. But the first half was not for a defensive purist. Both teams spent the first 30 minutes trading touchdowns and field goals and both teams combined for just two punts and no turnovers.

UTEP struck first and took a quick 7-0 lead on its opening drive of the game. Running back Josh Bell broke a tackle inside the 10-yard line and ran in for the game's first point. The scoring play completed a 10-play, 75-yard drive in just under four minutes.

Tulane got on the board in the first half and tied the game at 7-all when Griffin connected on a 33-yard strike with sophomore receiver Justyn Shackleford at the 2:29 mark to complete 6-play, 79-yard drive.

On the ensuing possession, UTEP marched 75 yards on nine plays and Nick Lamaison connected with receiver Michael Edwards on a 28-yard touchdown strike to open the second quarter and give the Miners a 14-7 lead.

The Green Wave answered right back and pulled to within 14-10 at the 10:36 mark in the second quarter when SSantos knocked down a 46-yard attempt and connected on his ninth straight field goal attempt this season. The field goal culminated an 8-play, 46-yard drive.

The Miners continued to answer Tulane's scores in the first half. UTEP took a 21-10 lead with 6:59 remaining in the second quarter when Lamaison found Edwards on a fade route in the right corner of the endzone for a 9-yard touchdown. The score completed a 9-play, 82-yard drive for the Miners.

Griffin continued to shine in the opening half. He led a Tulane on a 5-play, 75-yard drive and completed all three passing attempts on the drive, including a 45-yard strike to Shackleford that set the Wave up inside the UTEP 20-yard line. Two plays later, Griffin notched his second touchdown after throwing a short pass to Grant, who evaded several would-be tacklers and found the endzone on a 15-yard scoring play to pull TU to within 21-17 at the 4:56 mark.

On its next possession, UTEP drove 68 yards on 12 plays and kicker Steven Valdez booted a 22-yard field goal with 28-seconds remaining in the opening half to extend its lead to 24-17, which remained the score at the half.

Tulane returns to action on Saturday, Oct. 27, against C-USA rival UAB at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Kickoff for that game is slated for 2:35 p.m. Tickets to that game and future Green Wave events are available through 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, over the phone at 504-861-WAVE (9283) or via the Internet at www.TulaneGreenWave.com.