Michael Pratt accounts for 4 TDs as No. 23 Tulane tops North Texas 35-28 after losing big lead
Sun, Oct 22, 2023
NCAAF News (AP)
NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Tulane quarterback Michael Pratt and his Green Wave teammates claim they were unfazed by the squandering of a three-touchdown, second-half lead on homecoming weekend.
Given the poise they've showed in tense situations this season and last, it's difficult to doubt them.
Pratt passed for three touchdowns and scrambled 19 yards for a go-ahead score with 2:34 to go, and No. 23 Tulane staved off a frantic North Texas comeback bid to defeat the Mean Green 35-28 on Saturday.
"It wasn't pretty," Pratt said. "But we fought to the end and kept our composure."
Tulane's defense came through in the clutch as well as North Texas tried to answer Pratt's late score. Linebacker Tyler Grubbs sacked North Texas' Chandler Rogers and the Green Wave forced him into into an incomplete pass on fourth down a few plays later to seal the victory.
Such dramatic triumphs have become a trend for Tulane and coach Willie Fritz dating back to some high-stakes victories late last season. The Wave had to score late at Cincinnati to clinch a spot in the 2022 AAC title game. In the Cotton Bowl, they scored 16 straight points in the last 4:07, beating USC on a touchdown with 9 seconds remaining.
Last week, Tulane overcame a 21-10 second half deficit at Memphis.
"It's the culture that Coach Fritz has implemented here," Pratt said. "It's the character of the guys that he brings in here. It's the leadership. It's staying composed on the sideline."
Mekhi Highes ran for a 10-yard touchdown and finished with 121 yards on 20 carries - his third straight game eclipsing the 100-yard mark.
"He just always is going forward," Fritz said. "He just doesn't go down easy."
Tulane (6-1, 3-0 AAC) appeared to be cruising toward its fifth straight victory when tight end Alex Bauman made his second touchdown catch of the game on a 21-yard throw from Pratt to make it 28-7 in the third quarter.
But North Texas (3-4, 1-2), which had been shut out in the first half, scored touchdowns on its next three possessions, the second of which began with a successful onside kick.
Landon Sides' 6-yard catch tied the game at 28 with 9:08 remaining.
"I'm not into moral victories, but I'm proud of the way we fought back after an awful start," North Texas coach Eric Morris said.
The Green Wave marched 75 yards on 13 plays on the decisive drive, ending with Pratt's scoring run on third-and-12 with 2:34 remaining - a play that also gave Pratt a season-high 70 yards rushing for the game.
Pratt said he was looking to pass on that play, but the North Texas' pass coverage was good, so he "took off" when the middle of the field opened up. He used a sharp cut to his left to make one diving defender miss before trotting into the end zone, ball raised above his head, in front of a jubilant student section and band.
Tulane's Lawrance Keys caught five passes for 78 yards, highlighted by his 23-yard touchdown to cap a five-play, 41-second, 73-yard scoring drive shortly before the end of the first half.
Rogers passed for season-high 343 yards and two TDs without an interception. His first touchdown pass went to Ja'Mori Maclin on North Texas' opening possession of the second half. But on North Texas' final drive, his fourth-down pass fell incomplete, allowing Tulane to run out the clock.
Ayo Adeyi ran for an 18-yard touchdown and Oscar Adaway scored on a 1-yard run for North Texas.
"We faced a Top 25 (team) on homecoming on the road," Morris said. "It's hard to win football games on the road at any level. This shows us that we belong. Do we need to get better? Absolutely. But we can play with any of these guys."
North Texas: Rogers found his rhythm after passing for just 90 yards in the first half. Although he couldn't lead North Texas to a comeback win, he did increase his number of passing attempts without an interception to 175. Maclin prolonged his streak of catching at a touchdown pass in every game this season.
Tulane: Although the Green Wave defense looked shaky for much of the second half, it still fared relatively well against a North Texas offense that entered the game leading the AAC with 477.5 yards per game. The Mean Green finished with 426 yards at Tulane and fell about eight points short of their scoring average of nearly 36 points.
"They're a very explosive team," Fritz said. "They've got a very potent offense."
After getting back in the AP Top 25 poll this week, Tulane isn't bound to move up much after surviving at home.
North Texas: Hosts Memphis next Saturday.
Tulane: Visits Rice next Saturday.
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