Unable to control the line of scrimmage on either side of the ball Saturday against Cincinnati, Tulane still had an excellent chance to end a three-game losing streak.
But in keeping with an all-too-familiar pattern, the Green Wave did not execute when it mattered most, putting its bowl hopes on life support with mistakes that left everyone feeling sick at Yulman Stadium.
Sophomore walk-on Merek Glover hooked a 36-yard field-goal attempt wide left with 1:21 remaining after Tulane failed to convert a short third down and committed a false start on fourth down, allowing the Bearcats to hold on for an ugly 17-16 victory Saturday.
“Obviously it was a disappointing loss,” coach Willie Fritz said. “It’s tough. We have to regroup and go. We’ve had our share of adversity this year.”
The Wave (3-6, 1-4 American Athletic Conference), which lost on homecoming for the fourth consecutive year, was kicking itself for all of the errors that led to the missed kicked after quarterback Jonathan Banks scrambled for 10 yards and completed five straight passes to move the ball to the Cincinnati 15.
Running back Dontrell Hilliard could not pick up a first down on third-and-2, coming up a yard short on a play that could have allowed Tulane to run the clock down to the final seconds.
The Wave struggled on the ground all day, gaining a season-low 132 yards while Hilliard managed just 40 yards on 18 attempts.
After Cincinnati (3-6, 1-4) called a timeout to stop the clock, Fritz sent the offense back on the field to either run an inside zone play or draw the Bearcats offside. Instead, freshman guard Corey Dublin jumped first, costing Tulane 5 yards and forcing a field-goal attempt.
“That was difficult,” Fritz said. “If I had to do it over again, we would have called a timeout, but it felt like we had a nice opportunity to see what they were in and make the decision then whether or not to kick the field goal or go for it. We’re working situations with young guys, and we just have to do a good job of getting everybody on the same page.”
Glover, who had connected on all three of his earlier attempts — from 37, 19 and 26 yards — badly missed the potential game-winner. After taking over for Coby Neenan in the third game of the season, he had attempted only one field goal before Saturday and had never been in an end-of-game, pressure situation.
“Someone said they thought the snap and the hold (were off), but I thought it looked OK,” Fritz said. “(Glover) just might have mis-hit it.”
The misfires have come often and repeatedly for Tulane in the back end of seasons. The Wave lost 10 in a row to end 2011 after a 2-1 start, seven of eight in 2015 after a 2-2 start, and six in a row last year after a 3-2 start.
That final one is the only relevant example for Fritz, whose team appeared ready to turn the corner in his second season at Tulane when the Wave clobbered Tulsa 62-28 on Oct. 7 at Yulman Stadium.
Instead, the Wave tripped over its own feet, sandwiching losses against ranked South Florida and Memphis with flameouts as favorites against Florida International and Cincinnati.
“It’s extremely tough,” said junior safety Roderic Teamer, whose open-field tackle on third down gave the ball back to the offense for its final drive. “We’ve been having years where it’s only three or four wins. But we are going to keep fighting. We have three more games.”
Tulane could not quite overcome a dismal third quarter after leading 13-10 at halftime. The Wave had three consecutive three-and-outs while the Bearcats drove 72 yards for a go-ahead touchdown on their first series, overcoming three penalties and never facing a third down.
The big play was a 33-yard pass down the sideline to the 5 on second-and-19, one of four receptions for 30 or more yards for Cincinnati.
Banks, who scrambled 53 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter, tried to keep up. He finished 17 of 24 for 196 yards, completing passes of 31 and 13 yards to Darnell Mooney on the final drive.
Mooney, a sophomore, had a career-best 115 yards on seven catches.
“We just took advantage of our matchups and made an adjustment to sling it a little bit more,” Banks said. “It’s always tough to lose close like that, especially on homecoming.”
Cincinnati outgained Tulane 456-328, getting a season-high 149 yards from Gerrid Doaks, but the Bearcats also racked up 22 penalties for 123 yards.
The Wave could not take advantage of those mistakes.
“There are two choices,” Fritz said. “Quit, or start pushing and preparing as well as you can and play as well as you can. That’s our choice, and that’s what we’re going to do.”