Redshirt-freshman quarterback Tanner Lee threw three touchdown passes and the defense forced a trio of turnovers as the Tulane University football team picked up its first win of the 2014 season courtesy of a 35-20 win over Southeastern Louisiana on Saturday evening at the new Yulman Stadium.
The Green Wave held the vaunted Lions' offense - which entered the game ranked No. 3 nationally in the Football Championship Subdivision Top 25 while averaging an eye-popping 520.0 yards and 42.5 points per game - to three first-half points and just 177 total yards through three quarters while holding a 28-10 lead heading into the final 15 minutes of play. Southeastern Louisiana added a 49-yard field goal by Ryan Adams and a one-yard touchdown run by quarterback Bryan Bennett in the fourth-quarter, but Tulane squeezed a 74-yard scoring strike from Lee to senior wideout Xavier Rush in between the Lions' scores to provide the final margin.
"It's been a while," Tulane head coach Curtis Johnson said of the Green Wave's win. "I usually win in cards, but I can't win enough on the football field. It was great through, a great feeling. The students were outstanding. They did a great job. The guys in the locker room, they're partying. It's a great feeling and a great sight."
Lee finished the day 14-of-30 for 238 yards with a pair of interceptions to go with his three scoring strikes and his favorite target on the day was senior receiver Justyn Shackleford, who posted four catches for 76 yards - including a 15-yard, first-quarter touchdown grab. Redshirt-freshman running back Sherman Badie paced the Tulane ground game with 80 yards to go with an 11-yard touchdown run to open the scoring and a three-yard scoring reception with four seconds to play in the first half.
The defense, meanwhile, got interceptions by sophomore linebacker Nico Marley and senior safety Sam Scofield, and added a fumble recovery by senior cornerback Taurean Nixon, to go with season-high totals of three sacks among eight tackles for loss. Junior cornerback Lorenzo Doss led the unit with a career-high seven tackles (5 solo, 2 assists) with Marley, senior defensive end Tyler Gilbert and redshirt-freshman defensive lineman Ade Aruna each posting a sack.
"We just wanted to keep it in the pocket," Johnson said of his team's defensive effort. "I thought our defensive ends: Daren Williams, Tyler Gilbert, Ade and Quinlan; played outstanding. Just keeping them in the pocket, we never let them get out, we never let them get flush. Every time we did, [Darion] Monroe and Scofield were right there. I thought we had a perfect game plan."
After a pair of punts on the game's first two drives, Tulane got things going with an eight-play, 46-yard drive which Badie capped with his first score of the day. Two possessions later, the Green Wave made it a 14-0 contest with 13:21 to play in the second quarter when Lee connected with Shackleford for his first touchdown strike and followed that up with a four-play that culminated with a one-yard touchdown run by redshirt-freshman fullback Lazedrick Thompson.
Southeastern Louisiana broke-up the shutout with a 44-yard Adams field goal to cut the Green Wave lead to 21-3, but Tulane got back on the board with a 10-play, 74-yard drive that saw Lee hit Badie with four seconds to play before the break.
"I thought [offensive coordinator Eric Price] did a great job managing the game," Johnson said of Tulane's late first-half score. "We had timeouts and we used them all effectively. Tanner found Sherman, and it was just what we talked about in practice. It was great clock management...and a great job putting it in the end zone."
The lone score of the third quarter came courtesy of the Lions as Jeremy Meyers pulled down a seven-yard touchdown from Bennett with 35 seconds to play the period. Following the three scores in the fourth, the Green Wave defense thwarted a pair of Southeastern Louisiana the rest of the way as Scofield picked off a Bennett offering at the Tulane 16-yard line with 7:05 to play, Nixon recovered a botched lateral attempt with 4:36 to go and the secondary forced a fourth-down incompletion with the Lions holding possession at the six-yard line with four seconds remaining on the clock.
Bennett finished the day 16-of-34 for 213 yards, one touchdown and a pair of interceptions. Kody Sutton had 22 of the Lions' 58 rushing yards and Devante Scott led the aerial assault with 93yards on five receptions. Tyler Stoddard paced the SLU defense with eight stops (6 solo, 2 assists) and a sack.
The Green Wave return to action on Saturday, Sept. 20 at Duke before traveling to Piscataway, N.J., to take on Rutgers on Sept. 27. Tulane's next home game is slated for Oct. 11 against American Athletic Conference foe UConn. Kickoff for that game is yet to be determined.