Tulane's 49-year wait for a conference championship is over.
Saturday's 49-35 victory over Army clinched at least a tie for the Conference USA title, its first league championship since 1949, when the Green Wave won the Southeastern Conference. Just three years ago, the Green Wave staggered to a 2-9 record, their 15th consecutive losing season.
Junior receiver JuJuan Dawson could only shake his head and whistle when asked to reflect on his first year at No. 14 Tulane. Now, Tulane's undefeated (9-0, 5-0 Conference USA) and can win the title outright with a victory against Houston next week.
"It's a great feeling," Dawson said. "We've been through some rough times."
Representatives from the Sugar and Liberty bowls watched as quarterback Shaun King passed for three touchdowns and ran for three more as Tulane remained one of four undefeated teams in the country.
King became the first Tulane quarterback to pass for 300 yards and run for 100 in a game, finishing 23-of-31 for 332 yards and running for 133 yards on 18 carries.
"Our defense wasn't stopping them and we needed someone to step up," coach Tommy Bowden aid. "Shaun just took over the game."
Dawson added eight receptions for 122 yards and two scores and P.J. Franklin caught nine passes for 154 yards and a touchdown.
| Army's Reno Ferri tries to get by Tulane's Sam Knight during the first half. (AP) |
Defense was reduced to a rumor in a game in which the teams combined for 1,116 yards. Though not known for a prolific offenseArmy (2-7, 2-3) traded touchdowns with a Tulane team ranked No. 2 in the nation in scoring (42.4 points per game). Craig Stucker scored twice for Army (2-7, 2-3) and quarterback Johnny Goff tossed a touchdown pass and rushed for 148 yards on 19 carries.
Tulane took control after the game's only turnover. The Green Wave led 35-28 late in the third quarter when defensive back Sam Knight pounced on a bad pitch by Goff at the Army 14. Tulane took a 42-28 lead early in the fourth when King hit Dawson on a 12-yard scoring pass.
"That was certainly the key play of the game," Army coach Bob Sutton said. "We needed to stop them one time and we couldn't do it."
After Stucker's second score cut the lead to 42-35 in the fourth quarter, Army drove down to the Tulane 24 with about 51/2 minutes remaining. But Goff's fourth-down pass to Gary Williams was knocked away by Michael Jordan.
The Green Wave iced the game on King's 20-yard run.
King thinks Tulane improved its bowl prospects with a tough road victory.
"I think we had to have made a favorable impression," King said.
Bowden agreed, pointing out his team scored almost 50 points against a team that played Notre Dame down to the wire. But he said he won't be too picky about Tulane's bowl draw.
"We've accomplished a whole lot, regardless of what happens," he said.
It was King's rushing, rather than his passing, that led Tulane to a touchdown on its opening possession. On third-and-12 from the Tulane 15, King eluded an Army blitz and scrambled for 33 yards. On fourth-and-goal from the 1, he scored on a quarterback keeper.
Army answered with a 7-yard touchdown run by Bobby Williams with 2:10 remaining in the first quarter. Goff accounted for exactly half of the 78 yards on the scoring drive, passing for 16 and rushing for 23.
The Green Wave grabbed the lead again on a 43-yard touchdown pass from King to JaJuan Dawson on the final play of the first quarter. King faked a handoff on third-and-1 and found Dawson behind an Army secondary that had stepped up to defend the run.
But Tulane fell for the same ploy on Army's next possession when the Green Wave secondary bit on a fake pitch by Goff, leaving Gary Williams uncovered up the middle. Goff found him for a 49-yard touchdown to tie it 14-14.
Army took a 21-14 lead on a 65-yard scoring drive that ended when John Johnson took in a pitch right from 12 yards. The Green Wave tied it 21-21 with :35 left in the half on a quarterback draw by King from the 7-yard line.
It took King two plays to give his team a 28-21 third quarter lead. The first was a 55-yard completion to P.J. Franklin, on which King became Tulane's career passing leader, besting Terrance Jones' mark of 7,684. The second was a 19-yard touchdown to Franklin.
Army knotted it when Stucker scored from the 3, but Tulane took a 35-28 lead on 4-yard run by Toney Converse.
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