Yulman Stadium’s debut could not have started any better for Tulane.
Walk-on Trevor Simms, who joined the team earlier in the week, drilled the opening kickoff through the end zone for a touchback.
Linebacker Eric Thomas forced a fumble on the first play from scrimmage, and defensive end Royce LaFrance returned it to the Georgia Tech 8-yard line. And then receiver Justyn Shackleford caught a touchdown pass even though a Yellow Jackets defensive back tipped it en route.
Bam. After 88 seconds, Tulane was up 7-0 in its first on-campus game in 40 years.
Yulman Stadium was rocking. The Wave was rolling.
The joy didn’t last. By the fourth quarter, all of the buzz on a stifling September day was coming from the Yellow Jackets.
For the second straight week, Tulane failed to sustain its early success. Only this time, the issues came earlier.
Georgia Tech took its first lead on the last play of the first half and cruised in the second, winning 38-21 and sending a sellout crowd of 30,000 home early Saturday afternoon.
Long before then, Tulane’s stars from its 38-31 double-overtime loss to Tulsa last week — quarterback Tanner Lee and running back Sherman Badie — were out of the game with what coach Curtis Johnson called “heat-related issues.”
“There were just too many mistakes and too many turnovers,” he said. “We have a lot of young players, and Georgia Tech had the answers to all the stuff we tried to do.”
After getting contributions from the special teams, defense and offense to take that quick lead, the Green Wave (0-2) faltered in all three areas.
Freshman kicker Andrew DiRocco, who missed a 21-yard field goal against Tulsa, missed from 27 yards as Tulane tried to take a 17-7 lead.
“He needs to concentrate a little bit more,” Johnson said. “Sometimes he’s not ready for the big stage, but I think he will be sooner rather than later.”
Georgia Tech (2-0) clinched its win by blocking a punt and returning it to the Tulane 1, setting up its final touchdown.
Lee, who had two interceptions as a senior at Jesuit High in 2012, tossed three picks. All led to Yellow Jackets touchdowns — the first one directly when linebacker Quayshawn Nealy stepped in front of the pass at the Tulane 10 and raced to the end zone as Georgia Tech tied the score at 14.
After two series in the second half, Lee headed to the locker room for observation. Devin Powell replaced him the rest of the way, and the Wave ended on a 39-minute scoreless streak.
“I wanted to take (Lee) out of the game,” Johnson said. “He got hit pretty hard. He’ll be our quarterback for a long time. We just have to protect him a little better.”
While the offense broke down, the defense simply wore down against Georgia Tech’s relentless option attack.
Three players succumbed to cramps as Georgia Tech drove 76 yards on 12 plays on its initial drive of the second half — first LaFrance, then tackle Corey Redwine and finally cornerback Lorenzo Doss. None of them were on the field when Tony Zenon scored untouched on third-and-goal from the 2.
The Yellow Jackets rushed for 344 yards on 57 carries, throwing only eight times.
“It was hot, but we practiced in this heat all summer,” safety Sam Scofield said. “They just had some long drives, and long drives whether it’s hot or cold, you’re going to get winded.”
Throw in a coaching decision that backfired near the end of the first half, and it was a rough day all around.
With Tulane facing fourth-and 3 at its 44 with 25 seconds left, Johnson went for the first down. Lee’s pass was batted down, and Georgia Tech took advantage by converting a 46-yard field goal as time ran out to go ahead 24-21.
“I didn’t want to punt it because we had a couple of kids (on the protection unit) who were out,” Johnson said. “Something bad could have happened.”
Tulane has recruited a roster primarily made up of local players, but the happiest New Orleans native on the field was Georgia Tech’s Zenon.
Forced out of New Orleans by Katrina in 2005, he celebrated his first game back in the Crescent City with a career-high 62 rushing yards on eight carries, including two scores.
Badie, who gained 215 yards against Tulsa, had three carries for 15 yards before exiting. Johnson described his problem as heat-related, too.