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Tulane Green Wave running back Dontrell Hilliard (26) picks up 12 yards against the Houston Cougars Saturday, November 18, 2017 at Yulman Stadium in New Orleans.

ADVOCATE PHOTO BY A.J. SISCO

For the first time since 2013, Tulane’s seniors won their final home game.

That small 12-man group played a huge role in the Green Wave’s potentially program-changing 20-17 victory against traditional American Athletic Conference power Houston on Saturday at Yulman Stadium.

Cornerback Parry Nickerson’s interception in the corner of the end zone during the third quarter, which preserved a 13-3 lead, was the 15th of his career, tying him with former teammate Lorenzo Doss for second place on Tulane’s all-time list, three behind Paul Ellis.

Linebacker Luke Jackson broke up a fourth-down pass on Houston’s final offensive play.

Defensive end Ade Aruna was in on a fourth-and-short tackle of running back Mulbah Car that stopped a Houston drive at the Tulane 6 in the second quarter.

Linebacker Rae Juan Marbley and safety Jarrod Franklin shared team-high honors with eight tackles.

Nose guard Sean Wilson had three stops, including one for a loss.

Running backs Dontrell Hilliard and Sherman Badie combined for 77 yards on 24 carries, including Badie’s tie-breaking 16-yard score in the second quarter, when he bounced outside after encountering traffic in the middle. That was the lone touchdown for either team in the first half.

All of those playmakers are seniors.

“They’re easy to work with,” second-year coach Willie Fritz said. “When you get a new coach come in, it’s tough. They have to embrace the coach and we’ve got to embrace them, and they’ve all done that. I’ve had very few problems. These guys have been a real credit to the university.”

Graham OK

The scariest moment of the game came in the first quarter when Tulane redshirt freshman linebacker Lawrence Graham was knocked out making a tackle on a kickoff.

Graham took a knee to the helmet, and his helmet flew off. He lay for several minutes as trainers examined him, and his teammates knelt down to pray for him before he was put on a stretcher.

But Graham raised his arm and gave a thumbs-up as he was taken off the field. After being transported to a local hospital, he returned to the sideline in the third quarter and got a big hug from Fritz.

“I was glad he’s all right,” Fritz said. “He’s a good kid. He’s doing well.”

Milestone

On the opening snap, Hilliard gained 3 yards to reach 1,000 for the season on the nose. He's the fifth Tulane running back to reach that milestone.

He added another 49 yards before the day was over, giving him 1,049 on 197 carries (5.3 average).

“It’s great for Dontrell,” Fritz said. “He’s had a tremendous career here.”

Hilliard joined Matt Forte (2,127 yards in 2007), Mewelde Moore (1,421 yards in 2001, 1,138 yards in 2002), Eddie Price (1,178 yards in 1948) and Andre Anderson (1,016 yards in 2009) in the 1,000-yard club. He is 129 yards away from third place in Tulane history and could have two games to get there if the Wave wins at SMU next Saturday to become bowl eligible.

Lagniappe

Junior Donnie Lewis’ fumble recovery in the first half was the first of his career. … After shanking a punt 14 yards on his first attempt, Zach Block had consecutive efforts of 46, 50 and 49 yards, none of which were returned. … The official attendance was 19,026, the second-largest of the season at Yulman Stadium but the fifth time in six games it was below 20,000.

Follow Guerry Smith on Twitter, @guersmith