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Tulane offensive line coach Alex Atkins, left, and head coach Willie Fritz celebrate Dontrell Hilliard's 75-yard run for a touchdown on the first play from scrimmage against the Army Black Knights on Saturday in Yulman Stadium.

Advocate photo by A.J. SISCO

Tulane beat Army 21-17 on Saturday despite being without veteran defensive end Ade Aruna for all but the final three plays.

Aruna, who had started 21 consecutive games and 26 of the last 27, stayed on the sideline with an ankle injury he suffered at Oklahoma. True freshman Patrick Johnson made his first career start in Aruna’s place, but he exited in the second quarter after being shaken up blocking on a kick return.

Forced to stay on the field for most of the game, the defense wore down in the absence of two key ends but made enough big plays to protect a slim lead most of the way.

Aruna played on Army’s last possession, when backup quarterback Kelvin Hopkins had 17 seconds to try to move the Black Knights 83 yards. Aruna pressured him twice on three plays as the drive went nowhere.

“Ade didn’t really practice all week, but he got in there at the end when we needed an outside edge pass rusher,” Fritz said. “We put him in there for that particular situation.”

Zero passing yards

Army, which had completed only 4 of 18 passes through three games entering the day, went 0 for 5 on Saturday.

The Green Wave defense threw a shutout after getting burned in the air a few times against Navy’s triple-option offense two weeks earlier.

Tulane’s biggest play in the secondary came when the ground-bound Black Knights tried a pass from the red zone in the second half. Cornerback Donnie Lewis read the play, stepped in front of the intended receiver and made a diving interception in the corner of the end zone to snuff out the drive.

“I came up to press the dude, and that time when he blocked down he kind of slipped out,” Lewis said. “I was just played my keys and thought he had to run the corner route.”

Parry Nickerson came up with Tulane’s second interception on the final play, picking off a desperation pass at the Wave 38.

It was the first time Tulane has not allowed a passing yard since doing it against Vanderbilt on Nov. 17, 1961, but Army’s zero yards were not a record. Auburn had minus-2 yards on one completion against the Wave in 1947.

No Brantley

Quarterback Johnathan Brantley, who started against Oklahoma while Jonathan Banks sat out with an injury, stayed on the sideline even when Banks got shaken up on Tulane’s winning drive.

Freshman Khalil McClain replaced Banks for one play, holding the ball for several seconds before scrambling for 4 yards.

The three quarterbacks split practice reps all week. Brantley took pregame warmups and appeared ready to play at the end, but the coaches opted for McClain.

“We knew we were going to do a run play,” Fritz said. “We wanted to give Khalil an opportunity.

Banks returned immediately and capped off one of the most clutch drives in Tulane history.

Lagniappe

Tulane, favored by three points at kickoff, improved to 3-1 as a favorite at Yulman Stadium against FBS opponents. ... Playing its second service academy in three weeks, Tulane held Military Appreciation Day, recognizing veterans and active duty military. More than 300 tickets were given to veterans through the VetTix and the Wounded Warrior Project. Gov. John Bel Edwards, a West Point graduate, handled the pregame coin toss and was an honorary game captain. ... The Wave is 2-2 for the third straight year and fourth time in five seasons.