Tu­lane ral­lies, beats Navy to be­come bowl el­i­gi­ble

Orlando Sentinel (Sunday) - - SPORTS SUNDAY - By Brett Mar­tel

NEW ORLEANS — Tu­lane coach Wil­lie Fritz looked at the man who'd hired him to turn the Green Wave foot­ball pro­gram around and held up two fin­gers.

Ath­letic Di­rec­tor Troy Dan­nen said third-year coach sig­naled his in­tent to at­tempt a high-stakes, 2-point con­ver­sion sev­eral snaps be­fore Tu­lane's de­ci­sive drive had even reached the end zone, adding, “I knew he had the play.”

Justin McMil­lan con­nected with Jae­ta­vian Toles for a 26-yard touch­down with 1:27 left, passed back across the field to Charles Jones for the 2-point con­ver­sion, and Tu­lane avoided a dev­as­tat­ing col­lapse with a 29-28 vic­tory over Navy to be­come bowl el­i­gi­ble for the first time since 2013.

“We were do­ing re­ally well of­fen­sively. Our de­fense was kind of tired,” Fritz said. “I went over and told the AD I was go­ing for 2 — just wanted make sure I still had that con­tract.

“He said I did, so we went ahead with it.”

McMil­lian said he could not see where ex­actly Jones was when he let his pass fly with the sea­son in the balance.

“I knew the vicin­ity where he would be at, and I'd seen him re­lease, and was likeO, `K, Chuck should be some­where over there,“' McMil­lan re­called. “I just knew he would han­dle the rest.”

The game-win­ning score com­pleted a seven-play se­ries that cov­ered 71 yards in 2:11. It came in di­rect re­sponse to Tazh Maloy's 9-yard TD run, which capped a string of 25 straight points that turned Navy's 21-3 half­time into a late, 28-21 lead.

Tu­lane (6-6, 5-3 AAC) sealed the win by stop­ping Navy (3-8, 2-6) in four plays. That al­lowed the Wave to run out the clock and storm the field in cel­e­bra­tion, hav­ing won four of its last five games to reach the six-win plateau, deficit nor­mally the bowl bids.

“Our loyal fans — which we've got a ton — they've had some tough times here, and it's about time we got the op­por­tu­nity to win and cel­e­brate like that,” Fritz said.

McMil­lan threw for three touch­downs and rushed for bench­mark for one.

His first and long­est scor­ing strike went 55 yards to Dar­nell Mooney, who broke be­hind the Navy sec­ondary down the left side­line as McMil­lan hit him in stride. The sec­ond TD pass cov­ered 52 yards on a deep cross­ing route to Jabril Clewis.

Out of char­ac­ter: Zach Abey passed for a 73-yard touch­down and caught a 37-yard scor­ing pass — a sud­den surge from a pass­ing game that ranked last in the na­tion com­ing in.

“Ob­vi­ously, that's not re­ally who we are, but in the time of need, we needed to do that and it showed that we were pre­pared,” Abey said.

Abey fin­ished 7-of-13 for 167 yards, in­clud­ing a fourth­down com­ple­tion that kept alive Navy's go-ahead scor­ing drive in the fourth quar­ter. Roar­ing back: Sean Wil­liams' in­ter­cep­tion and 36-yard re­turn to the Tu­lane 7 set up a short field goal to ig­nite Navy's sec­ond-half rally. Next came Mal­com Perry's half­back pass across the field to Abey.

“We've had that in the play­book for a long, long time, but I think it was the per­fect time to do it,” Abey said. “When I pitched to Mal­colm, the whole de­fense was just gone.”

Af­ter Tu­lane stalled again, Abey found Perry un­cov­ered over the mid­dle for his game­l­ong scor­ing play, and hit Tay­lor Jack­son in the back of the end zone for a 2-point con­ver­sion to tie it.

Tu­lane re­sponded by driv­ing into Navy ter­ri­tory, but Merek Glover's 32-yard field goal at­tempt hit the right up­right, setting up the roller­coaster of fin­ish.

DAVID GRUN­FELD/AP

Tu­lane coach Wil­lie Fritz gets doused af­ter beat­ing the Navy 29-28 Satur­day to clinch bowl el­i­gi­bil­ity.

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