RUSTON — Folks who were here eight years ago during the Tulane homeless football team’s three-month Katrina-caused exile at Louisiana Tech will tell you they were so overjoyed to leave they were singing, “Happiness is Lincoln Parish in my rearview mirror.”
Yeah, it was that bad. Living in a condemned dorm on Ramen noodles bad.
But the happiness level the Green Wave was showing as it hit Interstate 20 on Thursday night was probably approaching that.
A team embarrassed, albeit by only two points, by Football Bowl Subdivision newbie South Alabama five days ago came here and somehow carved out a 24-15 victory against the Bulldogs in the first, and final, Conference USA meeting between the schools.
Suddenly, a program that appeared headed for a continuation of its decade-long losing ways is 2-1 and seemingly back on track for elusive bowl eligibility.
Of course, just two years ago, the Wave was 2-1 and didn’t win another game that season.
And this Louisiana Tech team is a far cry from the one that went 9-3, led the nation in scoring at 51.5 points per game and took Texas A&M to the wire, losing 59-57.
And the Wave has two tougher road trips coming up — at Syracuse on Sept. 21 and a return trip to the northern part of the state — at Louisiana-Monroe on Sept. 28.
But the fact remains that the Wave won a road game as a 6½-point underdog, somehow overcoming four turnovers plus the usual adventures in deep snapping.
And if this reflects the state of C-USA in Tulane’s last year in the league, well, anything looks possible at this point.
Certainly it does if the Wave can put together the kind of drive that turned a one-point lead into an eight-point margin late in the third quarter.
Starting at its 6, Tulane drove the length of the field in 11 plays. Three times the Wave converted on third down, the last after Tech accepted a personal foul that made it third-and-24 from the Bulldogs 38 instead of fourth down from the 23.
On the next play, Nick Montana hit Xavier Rush over the middle, and Rush avoided tacklers to his left in right to turn his only reception of the night into the touchdown that put the Wave up by eight.
After that, it was up to the defense.
And with the help of a pair of Louisiana Tech quarterbacks who looked more like honored guest Phil Robertson of “Duck Dynasty” fame than his former teammate, Terry Bradshaw (who also was in attendance), the Wave blanked the home team nearly until the end.
There was some help involved.
Tech’s Kyle Fisher missed a 30-yard field goal with 8:42 left.
And when Tulane punted three plays later, Andrew Guillot’s 73-yard punt return was negated by a block in the back.
Julius Warmsley, who had a quartet of big plays in the fourth quarter, helped the Wave capitalize on the miscue with a sack that set up Orleans Darkwa’s TD that extended the lead to 24-9.
Tech also inexplicably went for two after cutting the lead to 24-15 with 3:44 left, leaving itself two scores down instead of one had the Bulldogs kicked the PAT.
Things like that haven’t happened for Tulane in a long while.
But before projecting Tulane getting on a roll it hasn’t experienced since 1998, it’s wise to remember another Mac Davis song: “Baby Don’t Get Hooked On Me.”
But make no mistake: This was a victory the Wave fully earned. And it came on the eighth anniversary of the team’s arriving here from Dallas by way of Jackson, Miss., and Shreveport after Katrina devastated the campus and the rest of the area.
So, for one night, Tulane Nation can do what it’s so seldom done in recent years and heed Davis’ advice: “Stop And Smell The Roses.”