One headline on a website story said “Defense saves No. 13 Houston in exhilarating win over Tulsa.”
Another read: “Houston appears to get away with 13 men on field in final seconds of wild win over Tulsa.”
Yet another: “Houston makes goal-line stand vs. Tulsa after getting break with missed calls.”
All accurate, depending on the point of view… but the variance of those titles depicts an eye-rubbing finish.
Had Houston not been upset by Navy last week, the ending of Saturday’s American Athletic Conference game with Tulsa would beg a Congressional investigation. As it stands, the 13th-ranked Cougars beat Tulsa, 38-31, in a game where the AAC officials were caught in a vortex of fast play and player substitutions that led to a boondoggle that might have cost Tulsa the victory.
Trailing 38-31 with 15 seconds remaining, the Golden Hurricane had a first and goal at the Cougars’ 1-yard line. Tulsa’s up-tempo attack was lined up legally and ready to snap the ball as two Houston defenders ran on the field and two ran off.
The two leaving the field appeared to not clear the sideline before the snap – which should have been a penalty for 13 players on the field. Freshman defensive tackle Ed Oliver – a five-star recruit and a symbol of Houston’s rise – was one of the Cougars coming on the field as a sub. He was offsides when the ball was snapped – and in perfect position to make the tackle for a 1-yard loss.
Tulsa was able to get off one more play. Evans rolled right and threw to Jesse Brubaker, a 270-pound defensive end who at times lines up at tight end. Two Houston tacklers met him at the goal line and prevented him from reaching the plane. A replay review upheld the call.
“I had full confidence in Jesse,” Evans said.
“I know he’s a D-lineman and we’re throwing it to him, but he’s probably one of the best athletes on our team. There was no doubt he was going to catch it. I thought he got in, but it has to be conclusive when they go to review and I guess he didn’t get in.”
Tulsa (4-2, 1-1 in the AAC) trailed 31-17 in the fourth quarter but rallied to tie the game and had possession to drive for a winning touchdown, but quarterback Dane Evans was strip-sacked and Houston linebacker Emeke Egbule returned the fumble 24 yards for the go-ahead touchdown with 1:32 remaining.
“This is one of those games that’s tough to swallow,” TU coach Philip Montgomery said. “Really didn’t feel like we lost the football game, just felt like we ran out of time. I thought our guys competed extremely well.”
Houston (6-1, 3-1 AAC) became bowl-eligible for the 10th time in the last 12 seasons. The Cougars’ chance at the College Football Playoff disappeared with the loss at Navy, and a loss to Tulsa would have severely reduced Houston’s chances of winning the AAC.
In several of the glowing profiles written about Cougars coach Tom Herman, he likes to talk about how Houston’s practices are designed to “train for chaos.” Regardless of the officiating gaffes, it appears that training was invaluable for the final seconds.
The outcome won’t be overturned, but the AAC office will no doubt have some comments regarding how the officiating crew handled the final seconds.