The first kick of Andrew DiRocco’s Tulane career was a missed 22-yarder that would have given the Green Wave a three-point lead in the final two minutes of a game against Tulsa last year.
Suffice it to say, he enjoyed his first game-winner a heck of a lot more.
Perfect for the season, DiRocco proved his success was not just circumstantial by nailing a 35-yard field goal as time ran out to give the Wave a much-needed 34-31 victory at Army on Saturday.
“It’s a great feeling finally after the hardships last year,” DiRocco said. “It’s just great that the team stuck with me, and I was able to come across it this year and just bang one when I got the chance.”
DiRocco, who went 8-for-14 as a freshman, almost did not get a second chance. Coach Curtis Johnson first singled out Trevor Simms as his likely kicker this August, and when Simms struggled, he turned to walk-on Steven Logan.
It was only an injury to Logan that helped DiRocco reclaim his job.
He is 7-for-7 on the year, including a 37-yarder in the driving rain against Connecticut last week and now this winner, which earned him a spot at the bottom of a celebratory dogpile.
Tulane played for the field goal on its last possession, running on its final two plays from scrimmage while letting the clock run. That showed a confidence in DiRocco that did not exist even earlier this season when he made chip shots that were not always pretty to watch.
“I feel the confidence of my coaches and my teammates,” DiRocco said. “I have the whole team behind me. It’s all on them to (put him in position). I’ve just got to kick it.”
Don’t forget Paris
Showing support for Parisians who were subject to the terrorist attacks Friday, Army ran out on to the field carrying American and French flags.
Johnson took time to appreciate the significance of playing his first game at West Point. His players shook the hands of the cadets on the sideline as they headed to the locker room.
“This is such a classy place,” Johnson said. “These young people save our country every day. This is a magnificent place to play.”
Dominant defensive tackles
Tulane used a five-man front to combat Army’s triple option just as it did Oct. 24 against Navy, and tackles Tanzel Smart, Corey Redwine and Sean Wilson put up tremendous numbers.
Smart had nine tackles, two stops behind the line of scrimmage and forced a fumble. His tackle total tied him for team-high honors with linebacker Nico Marley, a rare feat for an interior lineman.
“I wouldn’t know if anyone ever played any better than him,” Johnson said. “He was all over the field. He was everywhere with tackles for loss, sacks and bringing the quarterback done. This kid is just amazing.”
Redwine made a career-high three tackles behind the line of scrimmage, including a sack, and got to quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw on one play before Bradshaw had completed a handoff on a simple dive. He, too, forced a fumble.
Wilson was credited with five tackles and a sack.
Tulane has beaten Army twice in the past six meetings, winning 17-16 in 2009 when the Black Knights missed a last-second field goal and this time by making a field goal with no time left. ... Parry Nickerson’s 48-yard fumble return was Tulane’s first defensive touchdown since Lorenzo Doss had an interception return for a score against Florida Atlantic on Nov. 2, 2013. ... Sherman Badie’s 28-yard kickoff return in the fourth quarter was the Wave’s longest of the year.