Despite fighting the good fight to the end, there is no other way to say it. This was a tough loss, and recovery will take a lot of resilience.
Tulsa didn’t do enough to win the game, whether it was getting the New Mexico offense off the field, or sustaining any drives with a meager passing game performance. The result was an extremely disappointing 16-13 loss for the sun-drenched Tulsa fans on Saturday afternoon in which the paid attendance was 18,026 at H.A. Chapman Stadium.
Jason Sanders nailed a 53-yard field goal with plenty to spare on the last play of the game after a 10-play, 22-yard drive ticked off the last 4:43 on the clock. It was another time-consuming drive for the Lobos, who dominated the time of possession 42:41 minutes to only 17:19 for TU.
The events surrounding the field goal typified the game for the Golden Hurricane. Sanders missed a 48-yard attempt to the left on the previous play, only to have a false start penalty on the Lobos negate the play.
“I’m not sure why I missed the 48-yard attempt, but thank God for the false start,” Sanders said.
And as for whether Sanders had the leg strength to boot the 53-yarder kicking into a slight, 10 mph breeze, there really wasn’t any question. He hit the left upright kicking with the wind on a kickoff earlier to open the second half.
Tulsa (1-3) squandered a golden opportunity to drive down and take the lead before the game-winning drive by the Lobos. Tulsa had stopped the Lobos on fourth-and-one at the Tulsa 33-yard-line. Petera Wilson and McKinley Whitfield stopped quarterback Coltin Gerhart on an option run as New Mexico had surprisingly forgone a 50-yard field goal attempt to try and take the lead.
Getting the ball back with 7:10 remaining, Tulsa picked up a first down before quarterback Chad President threw a second-and-nine pass with three Lobos in the vicinity. The result was a diving interception by Bijon Parker, setting up the game-winning drive.
“They rolled to a coverage that we hadn’t seen all game,” President said of the interception. “Great play call by them, and just a bad read by me.”
“The pick late, he’s trying to make a play and probably trying to do a little bit too much right there and could have checked it down,” said TU coach Philip Montgomery. “So those things are going to happen with young quarterbacks. He’s done a good job of protecting the football.”
The Golden Hurricane was so intent on not giving the ball back to the ground oriented Lobos that they went for it on fourth-and-two from their own 41-yard-line with less than six minutes remaining. D’Angelo Brewer easily picked up the first down on a four-yard gain.
Brewer had a strong game against a tough run defense that averaged giving up only 78 yards per game. Brewer rushed for 131 yards on just 16 carries, including a 45-yarder, but often didn’t have much running room, which forced the Golden Hurricane to pass.
President had very little success throwing the ball due to dropped passes and inconsistent throws, as he completed less than 50 percent of his passes. He finished with 13 of 27 completions for 131 yards, no touchdowns, an interception and two sacks.
And President had no luck running the ball, either. After rushing for 130 yards on 12 carries last week, he was held to minus four yards on six carries.
President’s counterpart, on the other hand, was hard to stop. Gerhart, a third-stringer forced into action due to injuries, rushed for 156 yards on 24 carries. That included perhaps the key play of the game, where he broke a tackle on third-and-four from the Tulsa 39-yard-line on the last drive. He would have been stopped well short of the first down, forcing the Lobos to either go for it or kick a long field goal with over a minute to go.
Gerhart scored New Mexico’s only touchdown on a 19-yard run as a puzzled Tulsa defense watched the Lobos drive 79 yards on just six plays on the opening drive of the game. He finished with nine of 14 completions for 108 yards passing and an interception.
New Mexico (2-2) gained 338 yards on 59 carries as it continually ate up the clock. The Lobos only punted once and could have put up more points if Tulsa’s defense hadn't made several big plays on key situations to end New Mexico drives.
One of those big plays came with 11:36 left in the fourth quarter when a blitzing Petera Wilson broke through and popped Gerhart, forcing a flutterball that was intercepted at the Tulsa 19-yard-line by Craig Suits, who returned it 18 yards.
But Tulsa couldn't move the ball on the ensuing drive, going three-and-out.
“We’ve just got to capitalize on what we’re doing, and when we get a turnover, when we get stops like that, we’ve got to go get points,” Montgomery said.
Wilson, who normally plays at defensive end on passing situations, and is also usually the backup middle (Mike) linebacker to Cooper Edmiston, was playing at Mike linebacker for most of the game. Tulsa’s sack leader from last year came through with a strong performance, leading the Golden Hurricane with 17 tackles, including 11 unassisted.
“Because this team is so run heavy, they needed me more at Mike linebacker,” Wilson said. “Just because of the nature of the team you saw me more in the middle.”
“I thought Petera had an unbelievable game,” Montgomery said. “He stepped in and played extremely well. This offense really plays to his strengths. He gets to play downhill and go attack, and he made some big tackles for us. I thought he really sparked the defense when he came in.”
A career-long 50-yard field goal by Redford Jones got Tulsa on the scoreboard for the first time, trailing 7-3 midway through the first quarter. The drive was set up by a fumble recovery at the Tulsa 47-yard line by Cooper Edmiston.
A four-yard touchdown run by Brewer early in the second quarter tied the game at 10-10. A 39-yard field goal by Sanders midway through the second quarter gave the Lobos a 13-10 lead, which it took into halftime.
Tulsa tied the game at 13-13 on the second play of the fourth quarter on a 26-yard field goal by Jones. Tulsa had driven 84 yards from its own 7-yard-line after stopping the Lobos on downs, but had to settle for a field goal.
New Mexico dominated statistically, out-gaining the Golden Hurricane 446 to 286. It was amazing that Tulsa was still in the game at the end considering the lopsided time of possession.
Due in great part to injuries, Tulsa’s defense utilized several young players while moving others to different positions in order to fill holes.
True freshman cornerback Akeyleb Evans played most of the game and had seven tackles. Diamon Cannon played most of the game at Star linebacker, and had seven tackles as well. He replaced Whitfield, who moved back to safety to replace injured Jordan Mitchell, who is out for the year with a torn ACL. Whitfield had 10 tackles.
Young linebackers Treyvon Reeves and Robert Revels also got playing time, as did defensive linemen Frankie Davis, Tyarise Stevenson and end Trevis Gipson, who started in place of Jesse Brubaker (suspended for the first half due to targeting penalty against Toledo).
Although the time of possession disparity was in great part due to New Mexico’s ground control offense, it was also a result of Tulsa's inability to sustain drives on offense.
“We’ve got to do a better job offensively,” Montgomery said. “Obviously, in a game like this you’ve got to connect on those throws downfield, and we had opportunities and didn’t capitalize for one reason or another.”
“You’ve got to get points every time out there,” President said. “You can’t take a drive for granted. We’ve got to get points no matter what. We can’t go three-and-out, we can’t turn it over, we can’t put the defense back on the field. We’ve got to score every time we get the ball.”