Running back Dontrell Hilliard and quarterback Jonathan Banks would not let Tulane go down easily to South Florida on Saturday night at Yulman Stadium.
With the Green Wave trailing the undefeated Bulls by 27 points, they led a wild push that made it a one-score game — but Tulane couldn't get the ball back one more time to try for a historic comeback, falling 34-28.
Hiilliard had 118 yards from scrimmage, scored on a 24-yard reception and ran over three defenders for a 16-yard TD the last time Tulane had the ball. His night would have been ever bigger if a longer scoring reception and a 25-yard touchdown run in the first quarter had not been wiped out by penalties.
“The guy’s what you’re looking for as far as a competitor,” Tulane coach Willie Fritz said. “He’s a team guy all the way and a role model for our players. That’s how you conduct yourself and compete throughout the game.”
Banks, who dislocated a finger on his throwing hand on Tulane’s second snap and had to get it popped back into place on the sideline, missed just four plays before returning and playing the rest of the way.
Banks completed nine passes for 221 yards and two scores and also made some courageous runs for first downs, a couple of which got called back for penalties.
“We all fought and came together and put up some points on the board,” he said. “It’s always good to see a team fight. The score could have gotten ugly, 56-7. We were able to come back within seven. We still have a lot of games left, so that was real big for our team to fight through adversity.”
Fritz praised Banks’ toughness.
“He took a couple of shots early,” Fritz said. “He did a good job down the stretch, but we have to do a better job with our protection so he feels comfortable in the pocket.”
The next step for Tulane is getting comfortable as a team earlier. This one looked like a mismatch for the better part of three quarters.
“We just come out slow and have to do a better job of coming out from the jump,” Hilliard. “We were waiting for somebody to make a play, and we can’t do that. It’s just the fact of us seeing for ourselves that we can actually play (at the end). There’s no telling how the game would have gone if we had started earlier.
“These games hurt bad because we know we can win them. We have to come out and suck it up. That’s on us.”
The Wave accepted no moral victory with its late comeback, but players said they definitely plan to build on the determination they exhibited.
“We had a bunch of unselfish people on the sideline really fighting for each other,” Fritz said. “It was the best since I’ve been here. That’s good.”