GREENVILLE, N.C. (AP) — Tulane went from struggling to hold second-half leads to fiercely protecting one — and the 21st-ranked Green Wave did it well enough to stay unbeaten in the American Athletic Conference.
Michael Pratt threw a short touchdown pass to Lawrence Keys III while the defense turned in a smothering effort to help Tulane beat East Carolina 13-10 on Saturday.
Tulane (8-1, 5-0 AAC, No. 24 College Football Playoff) got off to a slow start to trail 10-0 after the first quarter. But the defense didn't give up much of anything from there against an ECU offense that has been nothing short of anemic all season.
The Green Wave's last two wins against North Texas and Rice had been by one-score margins after blowing leads of 20-plus points. This time, once Tulane's offense was able to grind its way to points and the lead, the defense kept the pressure on.
“I thought we tackled great,” Tulane coach Willie Fritz said. “I thought (the defensive coaches) had a tremendous game plan, and the guys executed it. ... There was probably seven, eight, nine guys that had really nice plays. Just a great overall defensive effort, without question.”
The Pirates (1-8, 0-5) scored on their first two drives, tallying 143 yards and seven first downs through the opening 15 minutes. But Tulane's defense allowed just 47 yards and four first downs the rest of the night, a welcome step up for a unit that surrendered those second-half leads.
By the end of the game, East Carolina had 190 total yards.
“It was on us,” said defensive back Jarius Monroe, who broke up a fourth-down pass on what turned out to be ECU's last offensive snap. “It was just us coming out playing harder, playing faster.”
Tulane's offense did just enough in this one, reaching the end zone only one time while controlling the clock and generating few explosive plays.
Pratt threw for 213 yards and had his lone score with 4:08 left before halftime, finding Keys running free to the left side for a short throw. Keys made the third-and-goal grab then stumbled into the end zone for a 9-yard score that cut ECU's lead to 10-7.
Valentino Ambrosio kicked two field goals for Tulane, the first from 21 yards to end the first half and tie the game. He later shook off a wide-left miss on a 31-yarder in the third quarter by making a 26-yarder in the opening minute of the fourth to push the Green Wave to its winning margin.
East Carolina got a 27-yard field goal from Andrew Conrad followed by a 1-yard TD run from Gerald Green on its first two drives. But little else went right, with the Pirates' last real chance ending when Alex Flinn couldn't connect with Chase Sowell over the middle on a fourth-and-6 from just across midfield with 7:17 left.
The Green Wave didn't give the ball back again, grinding a drive that worked on the clock and pushed all the way near the goal line. The clincher was a Pratt's 1-yard sneak on a fourth-and-1 from the ECU 5, allowing the Green Wave to go to kneeldown mode.
“It's a tough one to swallow,” ECU coach Mike Houston said. “It had a chance to be a pretty special night.”
Tulane: The Green Wave entered Saturday as one of three 4-0 teams in AAC play, joined by Atlantic Coast Conference-bound SMU and UTSA. They stayed in prime position in the league chase.
ECU: The Pirates' only glimmer of success in Houston's sixth season had been an easy win against Gardner-Webb of the Championship Subdivision. They came in averaging just 15 points against Bowl Subdivision opponents and as one of just eight teams nationally averaging fewer than 300 yards of offense, then sputtered again after a fast start.
“Our kids gave us a chance to knock off a nationally ranked opponent,” Houston said. “We just couldn’t get the score we needed there at the end.”
Tulane finished with more than 38 minutes of possession time for its 368 yards, marking a roughly 16-minute edge. The Green Wave had five drives of at least nine plays, including a 14-play, 92-yard touchdown drive spanning 8 1/2 minutes.
Tulane likely won't move much in Sunday's AP Top 25 since this ended up being a grind-it-out finish against a one-win team.
Tulane: Tulsa visits the Green Wave next Saturday.
ECU: The Pirates visit Florida Atlantic next Saturday.
Get alerts on the latest AP Top 25 poll throughout the season. Sign up here
AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/college-football