Senior quarterback Jordy Joseph’s dream performance in his second career start turned into a nightmare late in the fourth quarter.
As a result, Tulane’s last football game of 2015 ended in familiar fashion for embattled coach Curtis Johnson — with another loss.
After the Green Wave went ahead by 10 points with 7:40 left, Joseph threw a pair of pick-sixes as Tulsa scored 21 unanswered points to win 45-34 on Friday at Yulman Stadium.
It was the 12th consecutive season-ending loss for Tulane and the 13th defeat in 16 American Athletic Conference games for Johnson, whom sources told The Advocate earlier this week would be fired some time after the finale.
It was a stunning turnaround for Joseph, a former walk-on who was offered a scholarship as an inducement to return for a fifth year as a graduate student. He threw four touchdown passes as the replacement for injured starter Tanner Lee, and the last one, a 34-yarder to wide-open receiver Andrew Hicks with 7:40 left, put Tulane in commanding position.
Tulsa responded with a four-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to pull within 34-31, and Joseph lost his magic from there.
On Tulane’s first play after the kickoff, his pass in the flat went right into the hands of linebacker Craig Suits, who returned it 28 yards to the end zone to give Tulsa its first lead since 7-0 in the first quarter.
Joseph then led a drive to the Tulsa 15, but on third-and-9 from the 16, defensive Kolton Shindelar picked off a pass and raced 89 yards for a touchdown with 1:12 left to seal the comeback victory.
Joseph finished 23 of 41 for 343 yards — the most by a Tulane quarterback in three years — and added 67 yards on 10 carries, but his mistakes changed what would have been a storybook ending.
“I’m so proud of Jordy and those seniors,” Johnson said. “I thought they played great. You always want to end the season with a win, but it’s just unfortunate it didn’t happen. If you ever want to write a real good story, I would do him because he stayed here for five years and never played. He did so much stuff well, it’s unfortunate at the end it didn’t work out for him.”
Tulane (3-9, 1-7) ended with another frustrating loss. Tulsa (6-6, 3-5) earned itself a bowl bid.
With reports of Johnson’s imminent firing popping up everywhere in the past few days, Tulane looked lifeless as Tulsa cruised to a touchdown on its opening possession Friday night.
It turns out Wave had much more jump in their step than anyone expected.
Joseph surprised the Golden Hurricane with a fourth-down jump pass to tight end Charles Jones for a 28-yard touchdown, and the Wave offense rolled from there.
The game-changer was Joseph’s jump pass. After Tulane was stuffed on second-and-1 and third-and-1, he took a shotgun snap, faked as if he were going to run and then flipped the ball over the line to a wide-open Jones, who used an unintentional block by an official to get to the end zone with 5:59 left in the first quarter.
The Wave, abysmal offensively almost all year, scored on its next three possessions to go ahead 24-14 by halftime.
Joseph directed a 14-play, 86-yard touchdown drive, capping it off with a 3-yard strike to receiver Teddy Veal in the corner of the end zone. That possession featured a 14-yard gain by freshman Devin Glenn on an end-around and a direct snap to running back Dontrell Hilliard.
The next time Tulane had the ball, Joseph scrambled 14 yards to convert one first down, then pitched to running back Josh Rounds, who wanted to throw an option pass. When that wasn’t open, he ran for 6 yards.
The Wave settled for a 31-yard field goal and a 17-14 lead, but after a Darion Monroe interception, Hilliard raced 66 yards for a touchdown on a shovel pass as Tulane went up 24-14.
Tulsa rallied in the second half thanks to a huge performance by receiver Keyarris Garrett, who had 10 catches for 216 yards, but the Golden Hurricane never took the lead until the first interception return.
“We played as good as we could possibly play,” Johnson said. “That receiver, he’s a monster.”
Tulane outgained Tulsa 530-408 and had 187 rushing yards to Tulsa’s 41. The difference was the interception returns.
“The dream would have been perfect if we had won the game,” Joseph said. “I can’t ask for anything else. It was the opportunity to get out there and play the game with my teammates.”