NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Makhi Hughes slipped a tackle near the line of scrimmage, exploded into the open field for 31 yards — and then triumphantly slid to the turf so Tulane could run out the clock on yet another narrow victory.
Hughes rushed for 131 yards and a touchdown, Shedro Louis returned a kickoff 100 yards for a score and No. 20 Tulane held on for a 24-22 victory over Tulsa on Saturday to win its eighth straight game.
“We’ll stop scaring the fans one day,” Tulane cornerback Jarius Monroe said. “But these exciting games, that’s what Tulane’s about.”
Michael Pratt passed for 194 yards and a touchdown to help the Green Wave (9-1, 6-0 American Athletic Conference, No. 23 CFP) remain on track to defend their league title and possibly receive a bid to a second straight major New Year's Day bowl game.
Louis' touchdown came on the kickoff to open the second half and gave the Wave a 21-10 lead. It was his first touchdown since transfering from Liberty and came when Tulane needed some breathing room over a Tulsa team that delivered a fiesty performance as it tried preserve its slim bowl bid hopes and snap a losing streak that now has reached five games.
“For me, it's the first time we looked like what we think Tulsa needs to look like as far as just the true effort, the true fight, the true grit,” Tulsa coach Kevin Wilson said. “But we're not happy about the outcome.”
To put away its third straight victory by 3 or fewer points, Tulane needed Pratt to hit Chris Brazzell over the middle for 10 yards on third-and-9, followed by Hughes' clinching run.
“I felt like at the beginning, we were a little too high up on our talent, thinking, ‘OK, we got these guys,’" Monroe said. "We all try to not have that mentality, but I guess it spewed out.”
Hughes became the first freshman in Tulane's 129 football seasons to eclipse the 1,000-yard rushing mark; he has rushed for 100 yards in six straight games.
“It feels great,” Hughes said of his place in Tulane history. “All thanks to my (offensive) line. Those big guys, they deserve it. We did it. We just talk about like, ‘Let’s get 100 every game.' And that's what we did.”
Kirk Francis passed for a career-high 345 yards and a touchdown for Tulsa (3-7, 1-5), which outgained Tulane 477 yards to 357. Kamdyn Benjamin had eight catches for 157 yards and two scores. Benjamin's second TD came on a pass from Braylon Braxton, who started the game and subsequently subbed in situationally. The play gave the Golden Hurricane a chance to tie it with 3:03 left, but Braxton's pass on a 2-point conversion attempt fell incomplete in the back of the end zone.
Tulane scored touchdowns on two of its first three drives, taking a 14-0 lead on Hughes' 1-yard, fourth-down run and tight end Alex Bauman's 39-yard reception.
Then Tulsa subbed Francis in for Braxton — coach Kevin Wilson had foreshadowed using both quarterbacks — and the Golden Hurricane responded with 10 straight points.
Francis hit Benjamin with an 8-yard pass to make it 14-7 and Chase Meyer's 37-yard field goal cut it to 14-10, a score that stood until halftime.
Tulane will remain in the AP Top 25. It remains to be seen if the Green Wave move up or down after their narrow escape in a game they were favored to win by three touchdowns.
Tulsa: After Braxton struggled early, Francis, a walk-on, made his case for more playing time by leading the Golden Hurricane to 10 unanswered points. His third-quarter pass to Benjamin for 51 yards — which led to Meyer's second field goal — was the first play of more than 40 yards against Tulane's defense this season. His yards passing total was the second-highest in school history for a freshman. Meanwhile, Meyer's third field goal, from 47 yards, was a career long.
Tulane: The Green Wave entered the game without top deep threat Jha'Quan Jackson. Another top receiver, Lawrence Keys, had a lower leg injury in the first quarter. That didn't help as their offense stagnated for significant stretches. But this team has repeatedly come through at the end of tight games.
Tulsa: Hosts North Texas on Saturday.
Tulane: Visits FAU on Saturday.
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AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/college-football