Tulane coach Willie Fritz was not sure quarterback Jonathan Banks would be able to return when he took a nasty hit on the Green Wave’s game-winning drive against Army on Saturday.
Then he recalled a key factor in why he recruited him hard out of Independence (Kansas) Community College.
“He’s a tough kid,” Fritz said. “When he was playing junior college, he dove on around a fourth-and-6 one time and got 7 yards. I know he’s got that in him. We’ve just to get him to understand to slide after he gets the first down.”
Banks more than toughed it out on the final possession, missing just one play after getting a hard shoulder to his upper chest that knocked him backward on a fourth-down conversion.
He was examined by trainers, walked to the sideline gingerly … and came back to break the Black Knights’ hearts in Tulane’s 21-17 victory at Yulman Stadium.
After that, he amassed 51 yards rushing and passing, symbolizing the Green Wave’s newfound resilience. He came up clutch play after play on a dramatic, 19-play, 75-yard touchdown drive.
Worn down by Army’s relentless rushing attack while struggling to get first downs on offense for most of the day, this was a game Tulane would have lost at least nine times out of 10 in the past.
Instead, the Green Wave was celebrating a massively important victory before its open date.
“This is definitely a big win for us,” senior linebacker Rae Juan Marbley said. “We had a lot of close games last year, so knowing this feeling and what it takes to propel us forward, we’ll have that feeling as we go through the rest of the season.”
Banks was the catalyst, but he received some help from running back Dontrell Hilliard. He scored untouched from 75 yards out on Tulane’s first snap, but he considered his last carry even more important — a 2-yard plunge on fourth-and-1 that set up Banks’ winning touchdown.
"That was definitely what we needed,” Hilliard said. “My biggest thing was just trying to get what I can and make sure I got it, so I found the marker and got past it.”
Hilliard said he told Banks not to come back in the game if he was not healthy enough after the big hit. He was less than 100 percent going into the game because of an injury against Navy two weeks ago that forced him to miss the Oklahoma game and take fewer practice reps than normal this week.
“He sucked it up a lot,” Hilliard said. “He pushed through and gave us the big drive we needed. That shows how mentally tough he is that he put it on the line for us like that.”
Just about all of Banks’ best plays came late in the fourth quarter. The coaches’ next task is to bring that ability out of him from the start.
“We have to do a good job this off week of figuring out exactly how to use the guy,” Fritz said. “He’s a unique player. Sometimes he doesn’t always draw it between the lines, but that’s OK.”