Ugly doesn’t matter when you’re 1-4. Winning is all that counts.
Quarterback Nick Montana led a touchdown drive on Tulane’s opening possession against Connecticut, and a play-making defense that forced three turnovers made the lead hold up as the Green Wave won 12-3 on Saturday night at Yulman Stadium.
Tulane (2-4, 1-1 American Athletic Conference) evened its league record at the start of a stretch of seven consecutive conference games.
UConn (1-5, 0-3) still has not beaten a team from the Football Bowl Subdivision, its lone victory coming 19-16 against FCS squad Stony Brook.
The point total was the Green Wave’s lowest in a victory since 2006, when it beat UCF 10-9, but no one cared.
“This is one we needed,” senior defensive end Tyler Gilbert said.
Montana, who played his first series of the year to close a 31-6 loss at Rutgers two weeks ago after being demoted to third-string in preseason camp, went 4-for-4 for 53 yards with a short passing game on the first series. He capped the six-play, 75-yard drive with a 7-yard scoring toss to tight end Charles Jones.
That play, which gave the Wave a 7-3 lead, turned out to be enough. UConn came in with six offensive touchdowns through five games and added none to that total.
“We just wanted to win the game,” Tulane coach Curtis Johnson said. “We called it close to the vest, and I love the way Nick played. The defense played outstanding.”
After converting three third downs on their first possession to set up a career-long 44-yard field goal by Bobby Puyol, the Huskies were done scoring for the night. The Wave limited them to 104 yards by halftime, 137 yards at the end of the third quarter and 217 yards for the night.
Tulane held just a 7-3 halftime lead because its offense could not stop holding. Three second-quarter drives went next to nowhere because of four holding penalties that kept moving the ball backward and forcing punts.
The defense made sure UConn did not capitalize on the mistakes.
Cornerback Lorenzo Doss jumped a sideline route for his 14th career interception, the most for any active college player. Safety Darion Monroe ripped the ball from running back Arkeel Newsome’s grasp just before he hit the ground on a sweep at the Tulane 30.
The second half followed the same pattern, minus the penalties.
After the Wave failed to convert fourth-and-1 at the UConn 43, defensive tackle Tanzel Smart stripped Newsome as he ran inside the Tulane 30, and Monroe fell on the ball at the 22.
“Darion Monroe played one of his best games ever here,” Johnson said.
When punter Peter Picerelli pinned the Huskies at their 1 with a perfect 38-yard pooch, defensive end Royce LaFrance immediately busted through the line to tackle Max DeLorenzo for a safety as Tulane went ahead 9-3 in the third quarter.
For the first time this season, Tulane’s special teams helped rather than hurt.
Freshman Steven DiRocco drilled a 38-yard field goal to make the score 12-3 early in the fourth quarter after missing four of his first five attempts this season, none from longer than 36 yards. Johnson opened up the competition to walk-on Steven Broccoli in practice, but DiRocco retained his job and made that decision pay off.
“It was like we won the World Series,” Johnson said. “Our kids were jumping up and down.”
Given a cushion, the defense came up with three sacks on UConn’s next two possessions, and the Wave ran out the clock after Puyol missed a 36-yard field goal with 1:52 left.
Aside from the holding penalties, the offense limited its mistakes, too, going without a turnover for the second consecutive game. Sticking to safe throws, Montana completed his first seven passes in each half, finishing 19-of-26 for 135 yards in place of Tanner Lee, who missed his first game because of a shoulder injury.
Montana’s most important play came on the drive for a field goal. Facing third-and-5 at the UConn 44, he ran out of the grasp of a sack, scrambled to his right and found Justyn Shackleford for 10 yards.
Running back Sherman Badie had 77 yards on 14 carries, adding key receptions on Tulane’s two scoring drives. Lazedrick Thompson rushed for 73 yards on 12 carries, including back-to-back gains that netted 37 yards when Tulane was backed up to its 3 in the fourth quarter.