TULSA — Whatever works, right?
For the second consecutive game, Tulsa quarterback Dane Evans ended a thriller, a comeback, an overtime victory, with a read-option keeper up the middle.
Two weeks ago, it was a road game at Fresno State. Friday night, it was a home game, a conference game, against SMU.
Evans’ keeper from 14 yards out gave the Golden Hurricane a 43-40 victory over the Mustangs at H.A. Chapman Stadium.
“And this time,” Evans said, “I didn’t have to juke my own lineman. That was nice.”
Evans, remember, is no runner. He’s made his reputation with an increasingly golden arm.
But he’s all too happy to run when the time is right.
“They’re running years off my life right now,” said TU coach Philip Montgmery, “but they’re finding ways to win.”
SMU had taken a 40-37 lead on its overtime possession with a 22-yard field goal by Josh Williams. After getting first-and-goal at the 10, the Tulsa defense rose up and stopped the Mustangs — and left the door open for Evans to repeat his overtime heroics.
“In college football, every win is a big win,” Montgomery said. “You gotta celebrate when you get ‘em and you gotta fight to keep getting ‘em.”
SMU fell to 2-4 overall while Tulsa is off to a 4-1 start for only the third time since 1982 (the 2008 team started 8-0). More importantly, the Golden Hurricane opened American Athletic Conference play 1-0.
D’Angelo Brewer, who rushed for 252 yards on 46 carries in the 31-point comeback at Fresno State, rushed for 182 yards and a touchdown on 38 attempts Friday. James Flanders gained 132 yards on 13 attempts, including a 61-yard touchdown burst in the first quarter. TU finished with 315 rushing yards and had 103 offensive plays for 562 total yards.
Brewer finished off a hugely important fourth-quarter possession with a 35-yard touchdown run, untouched up the middle, to put Tulsa ahead 37-34 with 5:32 to play.
The Golden Hurricane defense then immediately forced a three-and-out but TU had to punt, too, setting up SMU’s push to tie at the end.
But at Tulsa, overtime is apparently Evans time.
After Brewer powered three consecutive handoffs from the 25 to the 14, Evans faked the handoff and kept it for an easy score.
“We had been setting that up,” Evans said. “It was wide open.”
The play was a variation of the 18-yard game-winner Evans executed to perfection two weeks prior.
“Similar,” Montgomery said, “just tweaked it a little bit. But really felt like we had it set up.”
“It was basically same type of play,” Evans said. “We had been running outside so well … we just gave ‘em that same look.”
That set off another wild postgame celebration.
“A lot of emotion,” said linebacker Matt Linscott, who led Tulsa with 12 tackles. “Kind of like a 360 — stressed out, happy, angry at certain points of the game. … To finish on top is such a good feeling.”
“It’s a roller coaster,” Evans said. “Up, down, happy, good, bad — but it’s always good when you end with a good taste in your mouth.”
Before Evans’ game-winner, no one wearing all black uniforms (and no one in the season-high home crowd of 22,089) was happier than when Brewer saved the day by more than just running the ball. On third-and-6 from the Tulsa 28 late in the fourth quarter, center Chandler Miller sailed a shotgun snap high and to the left, and Brewer plucked it off Evans’ hands to save certain disaster.
After a TU punt, SMU took over at its 48 with 2:41 remaining and drove for the tying field goal.
Tulsa had previously seized the momentum by stopping SMU punter Jamie Sackville on a fourth-down fake and, clinging to a tenuous 30-27 lead, TU was marching for what would have been its first two-score lead.
But instead of continuing to feed the ball to Brewer (he ran four straight times for 27 yards on the drive), Montgomery called a pass play. Evans went through his reads, then whipped a sidearm throw off his back foot toward Keevan Lucas. But linebacker Darrion Millines stepped in front of Lucas, intercepted Evans’ pass and returned it 45 yards to set up a short touchdown run by Braeden West that put the Mustangs ahead 34-30 with 8:31 to play.
While the Golden Hurricane passing game was inconsistent again (Evans finished 25-of-44 for 247 yards, one touchdown and one interception), TU exercised a pronounced advantage on the ground.
For the second consecutive game, both Brewer and Flanders surpassed 100 yards on the ground. Brewer came into Friday ranked fourth in the nation in rushing yards.
“He’s a gamer,” Montgomery said of Brewer. “He’s a tough kid. Like I talked about the very first of fall camp, the weight he’s added has allowed him to be an every-down back and a big-carry back. Him and James are feeding off each other.”
Evans had plenty of good moments (he was flawless on a two-minute drive just before halftime) but sailed a few throws high on third down (TU converted just 1-of-7 third down plays in the first half but finished 9-of-21) and was inconsistent deep (his longest completion was 19 yards). He was also sacked four times behind a line that lost two starters to injury during the game.
Lucas and Josh Atkinson were consistently good. Lucas caught 12 passes for 113 yards while Atkinson caught 11 for 115 and a touchdown.
“It makes my job easy,” Evans said. “I just gotta put it near ‘em. … Keevan had a couple incredible catches (and) Josh was balling too.”
SMU jumped out to a 14-3 lead, but that was nothing compared to the 31-0 hole TU found itself in two weeks ago. There was no panic on the Tulsa side.
“It says a lot about our players,” Montgomery said.
Friday was another tense game between the two rivals, a 10-point margin or less for the ninth time in their last 11 meetings.
“Seems every time, no matter how good we are or how good SMU is, it’s just a dogfight,” Evans said.
The Golden Hurricane came in as a 17-point favorite. Penalties, however, disrupted Tulsa throughout the 4-hour, 22-minute contest. TU finished the night with 17 penalties for 149 yards, the most in 18 games under Montgomery.
“Obviously the penalties (are) something that jumps out at you,” Montgomery said.
“I don’t think there are any ugly wins,” the coach continued. “For me, every win’s beautiful. Every win you get in college football is a beautiful, beautiful win.”
Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “Further Review with Hoover & Rew” and can be heard on The Franchise Tulsa from noon to 3 p.m. every weekday with co-host Lauren Rew and most mornings on The Franchise in Oklahoma City. Listen on fm107.9, am1270 on the 107.7 Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page.