TU football defends home turf against Northern Illinois
Saturday, Sept. 10 marked the beginning of the home season for Tulsa football, and it did not disappoint. A lot of questions were in need of answering coming into this Week 2 game against Northern Illinois University. Would the team be able to bounce back from the double-overtime loss against Wyoming? Would early season injuries negatively affect the Offensive Line? Where are Deneric Prince and Anthony Watkins? And would Davis Brin be able to replicate his Week 1 performance on his home field?
Doubt and excitement were circulating at the University of Tulsa campus on game day. With many game day atmosphere changes around the university, the hype and anticipation for Tulsa football were there for the first time in years, with Coach Phillip Montgomery being quoted saying “It was the best game day atmosphere in the eight years I’ve been here.” With improvements to the stadium like better lighting, play areas and Hall of Fame murals, as well as a better tailgate experience with live music, attractions and tailgate booths, Tulsa fans had everything to look forward to before the game. Still, the one lingering question would be whether Tulsa football could deliver.
After a Week 1 game where the passing offense was lights out, seeing three 100-yard receivers and quarterback Davis Brin reach a career-high in passing yards, the confidence in the team was there and the positives far outweighed the negatives. But as it is most years, Tulsa found themselves struggling to close out a game where they were slated to win. All this and more were at risk this week as Tulsa was fighting to avoid being 0-2 to start the year and possibly losing fan interest even after the TU administration put time and effort into making Tulsa game days more appealing to fans to boost attendance and bring a lively atmosphere to Skelly Stadium.
In the first half, Tulsa looked unbeatable. Brin didn’t skip a beat from his performance in week 1, finishing the game with 322 passing yards and four touchdowns. After finding Juan-Carlos Santan for two early TDs and giving Kentucky Transfer Isaiah Epps his first TD as a Golden Hurricane, it was nothing but Tulsa football for the entire half, finishing with a score of 24-7 at halftime.
There was a shift in NIU’s performance between the end of the first half and the start of the second.The offense looked nonexistent in the first quarter, only scoring a touchdown in the final three minutes of the second quarter, but they looked like a whole different team in the second, scoring 21 unanswered points and blowing the 17 point lead Tulsa had entering the second half. The adjustments NIU made shut the Tulsa offense down as Tulsa was forced to rely heavily on their passing game as leading rushers Prince and Watkins are still MIA with Coach Montgomery not giving a reason why they have not been playing. Knowing the running attack was lacking, the pressure was applied by the NIU D-line as they faced a fairly new O-line and got to QB Brin, forcing him to get the ball out quicker than was needed for his receivers to make plays. After a Keylon Stokes TD, Tulsa regained a 31-28 lead and forced a three-and-out from NIU; it was looking like Tulsa would be able to close it out until the proceeding punt was muffed by Stokes and NIU got the ball back in Tulsa territory.
Capitalizing on a costly TU mistake, NIU was back in control with a little under six minutes left in the fourth quarter. It was time to close it out or take the loss at home for Tulsa, and Davis Brin wasn’t having any of it. After a huge third-and-long catch from sophomore wideout Malachi Jones and an acrobatic catch at the one-yard line by Stokes, Tulsa proceeded to score and take a 38-35 lead with 58 seconds to go, but the game wasn’t over. NIU wasn’t going to be a pushover and give Tulsa the win, especially after scoring 17 points and holding the lead for the majority of the second half. They started to make their way down the field but after an NIU receiver tipped a pass, the Tulsa defense saw their opportunity to secure the victory, and Tyon Davis intercepted the pass to give Tulsa their first win of the season.
It wasn’t the cleanest victory, but what would Tulsa football be without a stress-inducing finish in which we won in the final minutes. It’s a Tulsa football staple at this point. The sights are now set on Jacksonville State where the Golden Hurricane is set to play this Saturday Sept. 16 and finish the weekend 2-1 before going on the road to face our first ranked opponent of the season in #20 Ole Miss. It’ll be another weekend full of Reign Cane chants, kettle corn and nothing short of exhilarating football.