By: Richard W. Humphrey
SMU Mustangs Contributor
On behalf of Timothy O’Farrell Recovery
SMU came back from a late 10 point deficit to beat Tulane Saturday afternoon 34-31. The Mustangs rallied for two touchdowns and ended Tulane’s comeback hopes with an interception on the last play of the game. The win was the Mustangs’ second in a row and evened SMU’s record at 4-4 for the season and 2-2 in American Athletic Conference play. Tulane fell to 3-5 and 0-4.
The Ponies seemingly took charge of this one early. They took the opening kickoff and needed just five plays to drive 67 yards for a touchdown in the first two minutes of the game. The big play in the drive was a 54 Yard pass to James Proche. Ben Hicks threw an eight yard touchdown pass to Proche for the score.
Tulane answered with a touchdown that tied the game at seven, but the Mustangs again cashed in for a touchdown on their third possession. Ke’mon Freeman ran the ball the final yard of a four play, 65 yard drive for the score. SMU led 14-7 at the end of the first quarter.
Interceptions ended the next two Mustang possessions, the first in the last three games. However, the Mustangs held the scoreboard damage to a field goal, and rallied for a touchdown with 4:35 remaining until halftime. Proche caught a 35 yard pass for his second TD of the day, and SMU took a 21-10 lead to the halftime locker room.
The Mustangs fell apart in virtually every aspect of the game in the second half. Tulane took the opening kickoff and made a first down before SMU stopped them. The Green Wave downed the ensuing punt at the three, and SMU struggled with field position on their first two possessions as they failed to make a first down. Punts of 34 and 25 yards ended those two possessions, with the second one setting up Tulane’s first TD of the second half.
Terran Encalade caught a pair of 24 yard touchdown passes in the quarter to give the Green Wave their first lead of the game at 24-21. They added to the lead with another TD in the first five minutes of the fourth quarter. That moved Tulane’s lead into double digits at 31-21, and the Mustangs looked dead in the water.
However, the Mustangs reached back and found the energy to move the ball 73 yards in 10 plays that ended in a touchdown on a one yard run from Braeden West. That got the Mustangs within a field goal at 31-28.
Tulane didn’t roll over and play dead. On the first play from scrimmage after the ensuing kickoff, Josh Rounds ran up the middle for 44 yards that put the Green Wave into field goal range at the SMU 30. SMU held Tulane to eight yards on the first three plays bringing up fourth and two from the 22. It was decision time for Tulane head coach Willie Fritz. A touchdown essentially wrapped up the game as he would have a two possession lead with less than four minutes to play. A field goal extended the lead to only six points such that an SMU touchdown would still beat them.
He went for the first down, and Dontrel Hilliard was stuffed for no gain. SMU was visibly energized from the stop. The Mustangs drove 78 yards for a touchdown in 10 plays with West carrying the pigskin for the final yard. Josh Williams made his fifth extra point of the day, and the Mustangs were back in front 35-31.
Tulane had 1:16 left on the clock to come back. They drove to the SMU 35, but the “Hail Mary” pass with eight seconds remaining was intercepted to secure the win for the Ponies.
There is no question that this game in many ways was as important if not MORE important for the Mustangs than last week’s win over number 11 Houston. On paper, it was a very winnable game as Tulane was favored on the betting line by just 2-1/2 points at home. An SMU loss would have undone the positive gains from last week’s win over the Cougars. It’s difficult to come back mentally from an emotional game like the one SMU played against UH last week, and for sure the Mustangs were not as sharp. However, they survived the terrible first 20 minutes of the second half and managed the 14 point comeback when a lot of things didn’t go their way.
It also is a win that was absolutely critical to the Mustangs’ chances for a bowl game this season. They now need two wins in the last four games to become bowl eligible. The good news is that three of the remaining four are at home. However, all four will be against difficult opponents that likely will be favored to beat the Ponies on the betting line, no matter where the game is played.
Irrespective of the outcome of the last four games, and it will be a huge disappointment if the Mustangs lose all four; the team has doubled last year’s win total. Progress is being made.
The rest of the season starts next Saturday with a 3:00 PM (Central) home game against Memphis. It’s Homecoming on the Hilltop. The game will be televised on ESPN News.
- The wins over Houston and Tulane were the first time the Mustangs have won consecutive games since the 2013 season.
- SMU wore red pants and helmets with white jerseys that had red numerals.
- The Mustangs entered the game tied for fifth in the nation with 17 takeaways (13 interceptions and four fumble recoveries) and added one more takeaway with the interception on the last play of Saturday’s game.
- SMU had a 100 yard rusher (Braeden West with 22 carries for 119 yards) and a 100 yard receiver (James Proche with six catches for 164 yards) for the second time this season. It was West’s third straight 100 yard rushing game.
SMU has scored first in all eight games this year.