DALLAS — Left in limbo as a replay official determined their bowl fate, Tulane players did not know what to think Saturday at Gerald J. Ford Stadium.
When the call went against them, their thoughts became crystallized.
Composed but heartbroken after a booth review found inconclusive evidence that Jonathan Banks had scored on the final play against SMU, the Green Wave had their say following a heartbreaking 41-38 loss.
“The film doesn’t lie,” senior cornerback Parry Nickerson said. “We know what happened. I had my hands up for touchdown all the way. It’s pretty shocking. It’s very sad.”
Banks chose to run it instead of passing on first-and-goal from the 1 with no timeouts left, making it an all-or-nothing decision in the final 9 seconds. He thought he scored before linebacker Kyran Mitchell brought him to the ground. So did his teammates.
The officials on the field thought otherwise, and the replay official let the call stand.
The decision left Tulane with a 5-7 overall and out of the running for a bowl instead of 6-6 and a lock.
“When I looked at it on the big screen, I thought it had a chance to be a touchdown, but I guess those are tough ones to overturn,” coach Willie Fritz said. “It’s not my call. Heck, it’s got to be beyond the shadow of a doubt.”
The decision cast a shadow on Tulane’s season, ending the career of 12 seniors who came achingly close to a bowl.
"You’re just hoping and praying,” senior linebacker Rae Juan Marbley said. “That’s the only thing you can do when it’s in the hand of (the officials). They make the right calls and wrong calls just like we do. They’re human.”
While the Wave waited, junior safety Roderic Teamer’s instinct told him the decision would be gutting, even though he refused to watch the replay.
“I try not to look at things like that, but I did have a feeling that because they made the call on the field that it wasn’t a touchdown, they weren’t going to overturn it,” he said.
“And if they would have called it a touchdown on the field, they wouldn’t have overturned it, either. We’ll watch the film and look at other things we could have done and not even put ourselves in that position.”
Tulane was called for three offside penalties — two on senior end Ade Aruna during one early drive — that led to a pair of SMU touchdowns.
“Our guys were just ready to get out of the gate,” Marbley said. “You leave a tiger in the cage so long, he’s going to want to jump out of there. We were just antsy.”
That antsy feeling turned into anger after the non-touchdown call, but athletic director Troy Dannen tried to keep it in perspective, even while the pain showed on his face.
“When you put yourself in a position that an official’s call can either positively or negatively impact things, you can look back at a hundred other things that got you into that position in the first place,” he said.
“I hate to say it, but there’s a life lesson here. These seniors, every day the rest of their lives, somebody is going to make a call they disagree with that is going to impact them. It’s how do you respond to it? Do you go into a whole or turn around the next day and get bigger, faster and stronger.”