Houston-Tulane was one of those college football matchups that, on paper, looked like its sole purpose was to serve more as gambling fodder than as a legitimate competition for each program. But, as often happens with these low-expectation games, it turned out to be quite entertaining with an ending that was pretty fucking bonkers.
This game had all the makings of an intense non-weekend collegiate battle. For starters, there was the fact that Houston blew a 21-point lead on its way to its ultimate demise. With 13:16 left in the second quarter, the Cougars went up 28-7 on the Green Wave thanks to quarterback D’Eriq King’s 35-yard touchdown run. It was King’s 15th straight game with a passing and rushing touchdown, an FBS record. Houston would not score again until there was 21 seconds left in the game—more on that later.
Then, there was the bad officiating that seemed like it officially swung the game in favor of the team that benefitted from it. The biggest example of this came late in the fourth quarter when two Tulane defenders appeared to not hear the whistles blown for a Houston false start, and went through the motions of sacking the Cougars’ quarterback.
Houston was still hit with the false start, but the resulting personal foul penalties on the Green Wave players turned what should have been a third-and-13 into a 1st-and-10. Tulane’s defense was able to force a fourth down a few plays later, but the Cougars got the field goal they desperately needed to keep themselves alive at 31-31. With under 30 seconds of game clock remaining, you’d be forgive to think that the momentum the Green Wave lost on that penalty would result in the game going into overtime.
Of course, this is where the true craziness of this game really broke out. Following the kickoff, the Green Wave set up in a formation where it looked like they were ready to end regulation. Justin McMillan then took the snap, and ran over to the right side of the field, but not before handing the ball off to running back Amare Jones, who used the trickery to get a 18-yard run in. It was a rare fake kneel.
(Somewhere, Greg Schiano is grinding his teeth into dust.)
With 12 seconds remained on the game clock, Tulane decided to run another play. Conventional wisdom dictates that you try and get as close as possible to put your team’s kicker in an ideal spot to score a game-winner. But with everything that had happened up until this point in the game, conventional wisdom had clearly flown out the window.
On the ensuing play, McMillan dropped back to pass and tried to connect with receiver Jalen McCleskey. The location of the throw and catch caused two Houston defenders to whiff on the tackle in Minnesota Miracle-like fashion, leaving McCleskey plenty of real estate to run in for the touchdown.
That reception was McCleskey’s fourth of the night, capping off a game where he had 120 yards and two touchdowns. For McMillan, it was his seventh completion of the night—on his 20th attempt, no less. The game also wasn’t a complete disaster for the Cougars, who continued their nation-leading streak of 21 straight games with a turnover. So at least that’s something.