UH’s late rally falls short, upset by Tulane
The scene was all too familiar for the Cougars on Saturday evening. With nine seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, UH quarterback Greg Ward was in the midst of leading his team for a game-tying touchdown.
But on fourth-and-5, Green Wave cornerback Parry Nickerson jumped receiver Steven Dunbar’s route and picked off Ward at the goal line to hand the Cougars a 31-24 defeat at TDECU Stadium.
Ward and the Cougars were in a similar situation on Oct. 2 against Central Florida, when he was unable to tie the game late as he fumbled the ball into the end zone.
Tulane led 31-17 with less than five minutes remaining, but a 9-yard pass to receiver Deontay Greenberry with 64 seconds left made it a one-possession game; then the Cougars’ Tyler McCloskey recovered the ensuing onside-kick to give the team a chance to tie.
However, seven plays and 48 yards later, Ward threw the game-ending interception to Nickerson, who was carried to the locker room on his teammates’ shoulders, and the Green Wave (3-7) upset the Cougars (5-4) on Homecoming to snap their three-game win streak.
Greenberry notched his second 100-yard receiving game of the season with a season-high 12 receptions for 136 yards, and Ward posted career-highs in completions (31) and attempts (45) for 342 yards along with two touchdowns.
But the Cougars shot themselves in the foot, committing penalties at crucial times and allowing sacks that constantly set the Cougars behind the chains. And kicker Kyle Bullard’s two missed field goals “were big.”
After the onside-kick recovery, Ward hit receiver Dunbar, who finished with six catches for 64 yards, on back-to-back passing plays (14 and 18 yards), with the second adding a hands-to-the-face penalty, and put the ball at the Tulane 8-yard line. Two plays later, Ward — who entered the contest with just two career interceptions — tossed his third pick of the game.
Losing the turnover battle
“(The turnovers) were too much,” said head coach Tony Levine, whose Cougars coughed it up four times. “What we’ve done to win games, we didn’t do today, and it was a total team loss. We got to use this week to regroup and get ready for our final home game (Tulsa on Nov. 22.).”
With UH up 17-14 at halftime, Tulane scored the next 17 points off methodical drives. The possessions contained two 12-yard drives, and one 11-yard drive.
“There were a few plays that we got out of position,” said linebacker Efrem Oliphant, who finished with a game-high 13 total tackles. “To win these games, we can’t put ourselves in these types of positions. We had too many turnovers on offense and didn’t force enough on defense. We didn’t stop them when we needed to.”
Tulane effective out of backfield
Tulane running back Dontrell Hilliard netted 192 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns, including a 1-yard plunge to make it a double-digit game with 9:22 left in the fourth, capping a 12-play, 80-yard drive.
On the ensuing possession, Ward was intercepted by Nickerson, who used good balance to stay in bounds, down the right sideline.
The Green Wave drew first blood when quarterback Tanner Lee — who finished with his most complete passing game of the season with 24-35 for 237 yards and three touchdowns with just one interception — found receiver Teddy Veal all alone in the right corner of the end zone for 9-yard scoring toss.
UH got on the board when Ward bulleted a pass to Markeith Ambles on a slant route, which he then dodged a tackler and cut up the field before front-flipping into the end zone for the 19-yard touchdown, capping a 13-play, 93-yard scoring drive with 6:03 left in the first.
Tulane countered two drives later with a score of their own, when Hilliard took the circle route and raced 63 yards down the left sideline.
Cougars safety Adrian McDonald dove on the ball in the end zone for a touchdown to nod the score up later in the second after teammate Turon Walker forced a fumble. McDonald returned an interception 37 yards on the Green Wave’s following possession.
On the first scoring drive of the second half, Lee connected with receiver Leandre James on a fade route for nine yards in the left corner of the end zone, which capped a 12-play, 84 yard scoring drive. The Green Wave’s scoring possession predicated off six runs and six passes and clutch third-down conversions. The Green Wave’s 62.5 percent third-down conversion rate (10 of 16) was the highest since Nov. 23 of last year against UTEP.