Riptide’s Reflections | Making History

Jeremy Rosen and Mark Keplinger

Riptide’s Reflections is The Tulane Hullabaloo’s weekly column talking all things Tulane football. Join us every Wednesday for in-depth coverage, analysis and opinion of the Green Wave.

They did it. The Angry Green Wave really did it. Coach Willie Fritz and the team have taken everything we’ve come to expect from Tulane football in the 21st century and flipped it on its head this season. With the exciting 27-24 road victory over the #22 Cincinnati Bearcats, the Green Wave is set to host the American Athletic Conference Championship Game against the University of Central Florida.

Even though Tulane was ranked three spots higher than Cincinnati in the AP Poll, the Bearcats were narrow favorites to come away with this game at home — why wouldn’t they be? Cincinnati had won the last four matchups between the two teams, with the Green Wave’s last victory coming in 2002. The Bearcats had a 32-game winning streak at home, dating back to the 2017 season. They were the reigning back-to-back AAC Champions fighting to claim a third.

This Tulane team walked into enemy territory with one goal in mind: 1-0. Michael Pratt talked to the media in the week leading up to the game, discussing how important this game was to the team. “It would be huge. Just a big time opponent, going into their place with the whole season on the line,” Pratt said. The winner of this game would claim the top spot in the conference and host the AAC Championship game.

Tyjae Spears put the team on his back when the Green Wave was on offense, becoming a true workhorse running back when the team needed him. He ran with the ball an insane 35 times for 181 yards on the ground and two touchdowns. This was his season high in carries by a mile, and the team needed every one of them to break through the tough Cincinnati defense.

The dominant Green Wave defense held steadfast, keeping the Bearcats in check the whole game. The defense held the Cincinnati quarterback Evan Prater to just 102 passing yards and made their rushers fight for every yard. Star linebackers Dorian Williams and Nick Anderson each made 12 tackles, and Williams made a huge interception in the third quarter to halt the Cincy drive and the score tied 10-10.

The defense stepped up immensely at the end of the fourth quarter. Pratt took a deep shot at the end zone to Duece Watts for a clutch 30-yard touchdown, taking a four point lead with five minutes left. The defense needed to do everything to stop the Bearcats on their last drive, and they delivered. Keith Cooper Jr. made a huge sack on Prater to force them into a third and fifteen. A qb-hurry by Darius Hodges forced the Bearcats to risk it on fourth down, where the Green Wave then kept them from converting.

This victory not only sent Tulane to their first AAC Championship game since they joined the conference, it completely shattered the past cycles of disappointment that had plagued this program for decades. This team accomplished something not even the undefeated 1998 team had the chance to do: they defeated an AP-ranked opponent.

The Green Wave held the unflattering record for most consecutive losses against Top 25 ranked opponents in all of college football. Their last victory was all the way back in 1984, when they took down the #19 Vanderbilt 27-23 on the road. 61 straight losses against AP-ranked opponents followed that crazy game against the Commodores.

If you want to hear an even crazier stat, you would have to go back to when Dwight D. Eisenhower was the U.S. president to find the last time Tulane came out victorious in an AP ranked v.s. ranked matchup. In October of 1956, a #19 ranked Tulane squad defeated #6 Ole Miss 10-3.

The Green Wave will face the UCF Knights for the AAC Championship, a rematch against the only conference opponent that humbled them this season. Just one more win and the team would be named the top Group of Five program and get the chance to play in the historic Cotton Bowl. This would be the most prominent bowl game Tulane has played in since the 1930s, when they played in the Sugar Bowl twice and the Rose Bowl in 1932.

Fritz-led team rose to the challenge in their battle against Cincinnati and accomplished something that Uptown New Orleans hasn’t seen in over 66 years. Tulane had the chance to break through the cycle of mediocrity multiple times over the years but fell flat on their faces — this time it’s different. Fritz and this squad put the college football world on notice, and I don’t think they’re willing to fade back into obscurity after this Cinderella season.

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