RUSTON — Pretty doesn’t matter for Tulane at this point. All wins are beautiful in the second year of coach Curtis Johnson’s rebuilding project, particularly away from home.
After making enough mistakes to fill a season-long blooper reel in the first half, the Green Wave ended an 11-game road losing streak by dominating Louisiana Tech in the second half at Joe Aillet Stadium, winning 24-15 before 22,635 fans in both teams’ Conference USA opener.
Tulane (2-1, 1-0) bounced back from a dispiriting home loss to South Alabama. Louisiana Tech (1-2, 0-1) continued to look nothing like a year ago, when it went 9-3 and led the nation in scoring under ex-coach Sonny Dykes and former quarterback Colby Cameron.
The Wave even managed to look pretty as it took control.
With Tulane leading 10-9 in the third quarter, Nick Montana directed an 11-play, 94-yard touchdown drive that featured three tough third-down conversions as the Wave went ahead 17-9.
Tight end Sydie London sidestepped a defender to pick up a first down on third-and-6 from the Tulane 10. Ryan Grant reversed field for a 25-yard gain from the Louisiana Tech 49. After a chop block put the Wave in a seemingly impossible third-and-24 situation, Xavier Rush broke free for a 38-yard catch-and-run down the left hash for a score.
“That’s how you draw it up right there,” Montana said jokingly. “No, that was just a hell of a play by Xavier. He did it all and got a little stiff-arm in there.”
Tulane’s defense made that lead stand up, stuffing Louisiana Tech running backs for consecutive 5-yard losses on the ensuing series, dropping the Bulldogs for a 4-yard loss on third-and-1 a little later. LSU transfer Chris Davenport then came up with a sack to force a three-and-out after Louisiana Tech took over at the Tulane 49.
The Bulldogs could not even score when Grant fumbled at his own 11 in the fourth quarter. Defensive tackle Julius Warmsley stuffed running back Blake Martin for a 2-yard loss on first down and hit Higgins as he released the ball on third down.
Kyle Fischer then missed a 30-yard field goal from the right hash, sending it wide left.
Tulane clinched the win when Warmsley forced a fumble from Martin on a sack and teammate Tyler Gilbert recovered at the Louisiana Tech 1. Orleans Darkwa scored on the next play to make the score 24-9 with 6:02 left.
Montana finished 20 of 36 for 235 yards and two touchdowns despite being sacked six times.
“I’m sore but satisfied,” he said.
But the defense was the story, holding Louisiana Tech without a touchdown until late in the fourth quarter despite four turnovers from the offense.
“We tried to turn them into a one-dimensional team,” Davenport said. “We took away the run and made them a passing team, and then we knew it was in favor of us to win. We applied the pressure, kept fighting and got to where we wanted to be.”
The defense was dominant after Louisiana Tech running back Tevin King ripped off a 47-yard run to the Tulane 3 on the Bulldogs’ second snap, Louisiana Tech had to settle for a field goal on that possession and never reached the end zone as the Wave extended its streak without allowing a touchdown to nearly six quarters before allowing a TD with 3:44 left.
Tulane outgained Louisiana Tech 370-295.
Louisiana Tech quarterback Scotty Young was benched after completing 9 of 28 passes in the first half. His replacement, Ryan Higgins, tossed an interception to Tulane cornerback Lorenzo Doss on his first throw. It was Doss’s seventh career interception in 15 games.
“I baited him,” Doss said. “I was playing man-to-man and it was a new quarterback. He didn’t look like he was warm at all.”
Cairo Santos kicked a 51-yard field goal to give Tulane a 10-9 lead in the third quarter despite a high snap that made him do a stutter step. It was his 25th consecutive field goal since the start of 2012.
Tech led 9-7 at the half on three Kyle Fischer field goals, with Tulane getting its lone score on a 24-yard pass from Montana to Grant that capped a seven-play, 75-yard drive as the Green Wave went ahead 7-6 with 3:18 left in the first.
Tulane showed all the reasons it had not won on the road since 2011 early. Freshman long snapper Mike Lizanich rolled a snap to punter Peter Picerelli at the end of the Green Wave’s first series, causing a turnover at midfield.
The Wave’s second series featured a sack, a declined holding call on Montana’s third-and-long scramble and a false start before a low punt gave Louisiana Tech the ball at the Tulane 47.
“We settled in, read our keys and played our defense,” safety Sam Scofield said. “The offense wasn’t playing their best, but we worry about us.”