BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — On a hot day, Tulane could not cool down UAB’s offense when it mattered most.
The Blazers drove 93 yards for a tie-breaking touchdown in the fourth quarter of Saturday's game at Legion Field, and the Green Wave’s attempt to answer went cold when quarterback Jonathan Banks had the ball stripped as he looked for an open receiver with 1:15 left.
The inability to make a play in those critical moments left Tulane with the same empty feeling it has experienced time after time. On this day, the Green Wave walked off the field a 31-24 loser. The details change, but the result remains remarkably consistent.
“It’s a tough loss for us,” coach Willie Fritz said. “So many of the players played their hearts out. We are making plays to be in the game. We are just not making plays to end the game and finish the game and win the game.”
Never mind that Tulane (1-2) was a little fortunate to even have a chance in the fourth quarter. The Blazers (2-1) converted 10 of 19 times on third downs while limiting the Wave to 3 of 13, enjoyed a 13-minute advantage in time of possession, ran 85 plays to the Wave’s 66 and sacked quarterback Jonathan Banks six times while allowing none of their own.
Everything still pointed in the Wave’s favor when it finally erased an early 14-0 deficit to tie the score at 24 on Merek Glover’s 40-yard field goal. UAB then started at its 7-yard line with 9:53 left after an illegal block on a kickoff return.
“I thought we were in the driver’s seat there,” Fritz said. “They had a long field to go.”
Tulane still could not get it done.
Converting a third-and-3, a third-and-1 and a third-and-4, the Blazers held the ball for 13 plays over 7 minutes, 34 seconds against a defense that held them to three points in their previous four possessions.
Running back Spencer Brown eluded a tackle from safety Roderic Teamer to turn the corner for a 9-yard gain that moved the chains. Safety P.J. Hall was flagged 15 yards for grabbing wildcat quarterback Tyler Johnston III’s face mask to bring him down in the open field.
And when the defense sold out to stop Brown on third down from the 14, A.J. Erdely hit tight end Logan Scott for an easy 14-yard score with 2:19 left.
“Obviously at that point in the game, fatigue becomes a factor,” Teamer said. “I don’t want to blame that, but it causes a lack of communication. It was pretty hot, but we practice in the heat, so that’s not an excuse.”
With plenty of time to tie the score, Tulane moved to the UAB 30 — but Banks held the ball too long and was stripped on a sack, handing the ball to UAB on a fumble with 1:15 left.
It was a rough day for Banks and the pass protectors. Harassed repeatedly, he went 7 of 24, threw his first interception in 97 attempts and lost two fumbles, one of which was returned for a touchdown. Another fumble call was reversed by the replay official.
Fittingly, the game ended when Banks was sacked yet again just before he was going to launch a desperation pass to the end zone from the UAB 38.
“It was a combination of not-real-good protection and sometimes him holding the ball a little bit too long and waiting for some routes to develop,” Fritz said. “We just have to do a better job of being firm in our protection. That’s not our strength.”
Tulane gave itself a chance to win by intercepting Erdely twice in the end zone during the first half — once with a 7-0 deficit and again when down 21-7.
But after scoring touchdowns on its first two series of the second half to get within 24-21, the Wave could not win the remaining decisive moments.
Darius Bradwell appeared to give Tulane its first lead on a 18-yard draw, but the play was nullified by a penalty on wide receiver Terren Encalade.
“They called holding on the outside of the perimeter,” Fritz said. “I thought he did a good job of whipping the guy.”
On the field for too long already, Tulane’s defense looked whipped on UAB’s decisive drive when one big stop could have altered the outcome.
“There’s no excuse, but that heat does play a factor on the field,” cornerback Donnie Lewis said. “It’s definitely frustrating. We harp big on getting off the field on third down. At the end of the day, we just have to bow up.”
Tulane wasted another outstanding day from wide receiver Darnell Mooney, who caught four passes for 123 yards and two scores, including a nifty option pitch from Banks. Bradwell added a touchdown off a direct snap as a wildcat quarterback.
“Where we are right now, every game is going to be close,” Fritz said. “We have to play close to error free as we possibly can, and we just didn’t do that. They made one more play than we made.”