For the first time since 1986, SMU football found itself ranked in the Top 25 AP poll, coming in at No. 24 after starting the season with a 5-0 record. That past season happened just before the NCAA hit the school with the death penalty after investigators discovered a slush fund dedicated to paying players and their families under the table (oh, the humanity!). The punishment was so severe that there was no SMU football in 1987 or 1988. Saturday’s game put the program in position to move to 6-0 for the first time since the Pony Express era of the team, when Eric Dickerson and Craig James helped the Mustangs go 11-0-1. In other words, the matchup with Tulsa was a big fucking deal.
And yet after three quarters, it looked as though the undefeated season was coming to a crashing end. When the fourth quarter began, the Mustangs were down 30-9 against the Golden Hurricane, but they at least had some hope in sight. The final period of play began with SMU in a 4th-and-goal situation on the one, and ended with a one-yard touchdown from Ke’Mon Freeman, to make the score 30-16. After forcing Tulsa to punt six plays later, the Mustangs took just over three minutes to go 92 yards and cut the lead down to seven, 30-23. SMU’s defense stepped up one more time, forcing a three-and-out, and the offense tied things up with a 14-play, 80-yard drive, scoring with 1:02 left in regulation to make it 30-30.
Overtime wasn’t so much a case of a good team carrying late-game momentum to dominate a bad team, but more of one where the less talented team screwed up just a bit more than talented one did. The mediocrities that put the Mustangs in this situation to begin with continued as the game did. The two teams traded touchdowns in the first overtime, but SMU’s possession in 2OT ended with a fumble on the second play of the drive. Tulsa, however, was unable to do anything to take advantage both in the second overtime, when kicker Jacob Rainey missed a 43-yarder wide left, and in the third overtime, when Rainey’s replacement Zack Long missed a 42-yarder that also went wide left.
Like any team deserving of their ranking, SMU did not settle for only needing three points to win. Coach Sonny Dykes wanted to get out with a win as quickly as possible and called for a quick strike to the end zone to do just that. The 25-yard pass from Shane Buechele to James Proche looked to be a beauty with the quarterback putting it near the corner of the end zone, and the receiver using all of his power to sneak just one foot in-bounds. It was initially called incomplete, but after officials reviewed the play, they saw Proche’s athleticism and awarded the Mustangs the game-winning score—marking the first time in over 30 years that an official review of SMU actually worked out for the program.
Now for the statistics that put this incredible comeback into context: ESPN Stats & Info reports that this was just the ninth time an FBS team trailing by 21 points or more in entering the fourth quarter came out with a win, bringing the collective record to 9-3,000. This feat was last accomplished in 2018, when Oregon State defeated Colorado 41-34. This was also just the third time in the Mustangs’ program history that they had rallied back from a deficit of 21 points or more, bringing their record in such situations to 3-147.