Trailing 35-27, the Golden Hurricane needed 95 yards in just 46 seconds and had no timeouts.
They got 94.
Cody Green's last-second heave was caught by Jordan James at the goal line, but the officials ruled James didn't have possession until the defense had pushed him back to the one yard line, and Tulsa came within the length of a football of having a chance to tie the game.
It was incredible that TU even found itself in that position to begin with. The Golden Hurricane looked asleep for most of the game, trailing 35-6 with less than a minute left in the third, but woke up late to storm back.
It started early when TU drove all the way to the SMU 24, but elected to go for it on 4th and 10 rather than kick a 41-yard field goal. The attempt failed and the Hurricane squandered its first scoring chance of the day.
Things got worse on the next TU drive when Cole Way's punt was blocked by Ja'Gared Davis and SMU recovered at the Tulsa three yard line. Zach Line punched it in on the next play, giving the Mustangs the 7-0 lead.
Tulsa was re-introduced to Davis on its next drive, when Green fumbled and Davis recovered at the Tulsa 31. Line made the Hurricane pay, once again from three yards away, putting SMU up 14-0.
At this point, TU was getting a little tired of Ja'Gared Davis.
On 3rd and five, Green's pass was intercepted by—guess who—Ja'Gared Davis at the Tulsa 35. SMU quickly cashed that in when Garrett Gilbert found Der'rikk Thompson in double coverage for a 25-yard score to give the Mustangs the shocking 21-0 lead.
Tulsa finally answered on its next drive, piecing together 75 yards on 12 plays to find the end zone. The score came when Green dumped a screen to Alex Singleton, who stretched it in on the left side for his first career receiving touchdown. Singleton entered the game with just three catches for one total yard on the season. Unfortunately for TU, the kicking game failed again when Daniel Schwarz' extra point missed wide to the right, keeping the score 21-6.
The Tulsa defense looked energized, forcing SMU into a 3rd and nine on its ensuing drive, but then disaster struck.
Gilbert had nowhere to pass, so he pulled it down and took off up the middle—74 yards up the middle. The Golden Hurricane defense completely forgot about Gilbert, who took advantage and gave the Mustangs the 28-6 lead.
TU would then string together its most frustrating drive of the day, marching 55 yards on 19 plays, converting on three 4th downs only to once again come away with no points. TU once again elected to go for it on 4th and 10, this time from the SMU 21, and once again came up empty.
The Golden Hurricane got the ball to start the second half, and just like most of its drives in the first half, marched right down the field. At the SMU 42, Green found Keyarris Garrett for 34 yards inside the 10. But two runs for no gain and an incomplete pass left the TU coaches with another 4th down decision to make. They once again elected to go for it, and the Hurricane once again failed. Green's pass to Garrett only traveled three yards and SMU took over at its own five.
The Mustangs proceeded to drive 95 yards on 14 plays, capped by another Line touchdown run to make the score 35-6. Line's third score of the day was from 10-yards out and was the 46th rushing touchdown of his career, placing him alone in second place on Conference USA's all-time rushing touchdown list.
The Hurricane looked dazed and confused. This was the first time all year Tulsa failed to compete. There are plenty of theories as to why; it was a game that had zero impact on the Conference USA title game, it was just two days after Thanksgiving, and the empty stadium provided no energy. It could have been any or all of those, but it really didn't matter. TU needed to put up or shut up.
They answered the call.
With less than a minute left in the third quarter, Green found Willie Carter on a screen pass and Carter did the rest, taking it 31 yards to the house. TU failed on the two-point conversion, leaving the score 35-12.
The Hurricane kept the pressure on early in the fourth, and on 4th and five at the SMU 10, Green found Garrett on a slant for the touchdown, pulling TU within 35-19.
After forcing a three-and-out, the Golden Hurricane got the ball back but was forced to punt themselves. Way's punt was muffed by SMU's Jeremy Gray and TU appeared to fall on it, but the ball squirted out and SMU survived the scare. The play had a "had to take advantage but since we didn't it's over" feeling on the Tulsa sideline, but thanks to another strong Hurricane defensive stand, TU still had life.
Tulsa was once again forced into a fourth down on its ensuing drive, this time in need of six yards from its own 42. Green had nowhere to go with it so he took off running—and didn't stop until the one yard line. The 57-yard sprint set up Singleton's 39th career touchdown, tying him with Tarrion Adams for most total touchdowns in TU history. Green then found Carter for a successful 2-point conversion, cutting the SMU lead down to 35-27.
The Hurricane got it back for one last chance, needing those aforementioned 95 yards in 46 seconds. Green marched his troops down to the SMU 35, setting up for one final heave with just one tick left on the clock.
After extensive replays, it was clear that the ball hit James' hands right on the goal line, but he couldn't completely gain control until his momentum took him slightly back into the field of play.
The win was huge for SMU (6-6), earning a bowl bid in its final season as a member of Conference USA. But when looking at the stats, it's hard to believe it ended in a win for the Mustangs.
TU gained 35 first downs to SMU's 13 while outgaining the Mustangs 591-305. The Hurricane also won the time-of-possession battle and the penalty battle, but it didn't help them in the good old total-points battle.
The Golden Hurricane (9-3, 7-1) will now miss out on a couple of chances at history. They could have been the first C-USA team to ever finish the regular season undefeated and then win the conference title game, but that hope is now gone. The Hurricane was also in pursuit of the first 12-win season in school history, but that, too, is down the drain.
But the No. 1 goal for Hurricane was a conference championship, and that can still be accomplished next Saturday in Tulsa. Kickoff against UCF is scheduled for 11 a.m. and the winner will be off to the Liberty Bowl.