GREENVILLE, N.C. — When Tulane needed to move the chains against East Carolina on Saturday night, or needed a long touchdown run, Dontrell Hilliard had the ball in his hands.
The Green Wave rode the senior tailback's broad shoulders time and again on its way to a tight 31-24 overtime win against the Pirates in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
Hilliard's powerful rushes, particularly in short-yardage situations, were critical in keeping the Wave offense flowing all night. He carried 28 times for a career-best 189 yards in the victory for Tulane (4-6, 2-4 American Athletic Conference).
He sprinted over the 100-yard threshold in the first half on a 60-yard TD run after leaving ECU defenders lying flat at the line of scrimmage, then ripped off a 26-yard score late in the third quarter that gave his team a 10-point lead, 24-14.
Hilliard had 16 carries for 129 yards in the opening two quarters alone, averaging a robust 8.1 yards per carry in that span.
For the game, he averaged 6.8 yards per rush.
It was the ninth career 100-yard rushing performance for the Baton Rouge native and the fourth in his final collegiate season. He bested his 175-yard effort in a blowout win over Tulsa earlier this season.
The 6-foot, 205-pounder keyed Tulane's opening drive of the game, a 14-play journey that lasted more than 7 minutes and ended with quarterback Jonathan Banks' 3-yard rush. Hilliard converted a fourth-and-2 play inside the 5-yard line to extend the drive and set up the score.
With the game knotted at 7 in the second, Hilliard took a handoff to the right side of the line, stepped outside of one tackle and sidestepped a flailing ECU safety before darting into the open field for his 60-yard score and a 14-7 Green Wave lead.
As the intermission neared, it was Hilliard once again handling the ball the most, netting six more rushes to set up a late field goal for a 17-14 lead at the break.
Late in the third quarter, and with Tulane still clinging to that scant three-point edge, he cut inside a tackler on a second-and-7 play and was gone to the end zone again for his second TD of the night. The score followed a successful fake punt pass by the Green Wave.
In all, the Tulane rush attack rolled up 325 yards against a Pirate defense that ranks in the NCAA basement, and the visitors snapped a four-game losing skid that dated back to the Wave's win over the Golden Hurricane on Oct. 7.
Hillliard was complemented all night by quarterback Jonathan Banks, who added 96 yards on 12 carries, including a 16-yard TD run in OT that proved to be the winner.
The 60-yard TD was not the longest in Hilliard's career, as he scored on an 85-yard dash as a sophomore, a 67-yarder last season and a 75-yarder earlier this season.
Hilliard, a Scotlandville High graduate, has reflected the successes and the struggles this season by the Green Wave. During the team's four-game slide — which included losses to Florida International, South Florida, Memphis and Cincinnati — the back managed a combined 291 yards rushing.