Sometimes, despite all the game-planning and talk of offense and defense, a game just boils down to the kickers.
That was certainly the case in Tulsa Saturday night, when Fresno State kicker Quentin Breshears missed two extra-points and a 33-yard field goal as the Tulsa Golden Hurricane held on for a wild 27-26 victory.
Fresno State came out fast, taking advantage of a Tulsa team that looked a little caught up in the moment. Bulldogs' star running back Robbie Rouse took a fourth-down carry 37 yards to the house to get Fresno on the board early. On the very first play of Tulsa's next drive, Patrick Su'a intercepted TU quarterback Cody Green's pass and took it back for six.
Breshears' first missed extra point of the night kept the score at 13-0, but Tulsa would respond.
Showing a resiliency that they kept all night, the Hurricane stormed down the field and got on the board. Cody Green found Thomas Roberson for a 29-yard pickup to the Fresno 32 yard line. On the very next play, Ja'Terian Douglas took it to the house to cut the lead to 13-7.
Bulldogs' quarterback Derek Carr answered back on Fresno's next drive, finding Josh Harper for a 32-yard touchdown to take a 20-7 lead.
Tulsa's offense stalled, going three-and-out on its next three possessions, but found some life in the second quarter. On 4th and 13, Cody Green found a streaking Keyarris Garrett in the end zone to cut the lead to 20-14. Freshman kicker Daniel Schwarz added a 24-yard field goal later in the quarter to cut the lead to three. Schwarz finished the night 2-2 on field goal attempts and perfect on extra points.
On the final drive of the first half, Breshears couldn't manage the 33-yard kick, and somehow, despite frequent three-and-outs and two Green interceptions, Tulsa made it to halftime only down three points.
The first half could have ended up much worse for the Hurricane, but the second half couldn't have begun much worse.
After forcing a Fresno punt, Green threw his third pick of the game, and his second pick-6. Tristan Okpalaugo snagged a botched screen pass and waltzed in to put Fresno back in control. Breshears' extra point was blocked, but Tulsa found itself back down by two possessions.
Things weren't exactly looking up for the Golden Hurricane at this point. The sloppy play that plagued them at Iowa State had returned in full force. Cody Green didn't look in sync with his receivers and it appeared the Hurricane defense was going to have to make a play in order to keep TU in the game. And that's just what they did.
On FSU's ensuing drive, Shawn Jackson forced a Rouse fumble and Lowell Rose recovered for the Hurricane. Tulsa took advantage on the next play when Green found Garrett for a 22-yard hookup that led to another Schwarz field goal.
So despite the fact that Green had thrown more touchdown passes to Fresno defenders than his own receivers, Tulsa was back within six, one play away from potentially taking the lead. Not only were the Hurricane within six, but they had changed the momentum of the game.
One of the key turning points in this one came off the foot of punter Cole Way. Way has come through for TU with some key punts and big times so far this season, but this was his biggest. After a Hurricane drive stalled, Way boomed a 46-yarder that stopped at the one yard line. The Tulsa defense forced another three-and-out, and after a solid punt return from Trey Watts, the Golden Hurricane began their next drive at the Fresno 34.
On 3rd and 2 from the 26, the Hurricane went deep into the bag of tricks to snag the lead. Trey Watts took the handoff and then threw it deep, finding Thomas Roberson wide open in the end zone to give Tulsa the 27-26 lead late in the third quarter.
The fourth quarter consisted of a series of punts, with each team looking for a game-changing spark. That spark came when Tulsa got the ball at its own 43 with just under six minutes left, and proceeded to ice the game with a 10-play 43-yard drive to take the clock all the way down to 17 seconds.
In a game with the slimmest of margins, the statistical comparison was just as tight. Fresno gained 364 total yards; Tulsa gained 354. Fresno threw for 231 yards; Tulsa threw for 228. Fresno rushed for 133; the Hurricane dashed for 126. The Bulldogs gained 16 first downs; the Hurricane got 17. Fresno punted 10 times, averaging 44 yards; Tulsa punted nine times, averaging 43 yards. Fresno held the ball for 30:20; the Hurricane held it for 29:40.
It wasn't the shootout many expected, but this one lived up to every bit of the hype.
TU will play much prettier games this season, but may not win a more rewarding one. The Hurricane's ability to fight through adversity and steal this win in front of their home crowd could go a very long way into making this squad believe in itself.
Tulsa improved to 3-1 with the win, and will look to ride this momentum on a trip to UAB next week. The Blazers may be 0-3, but hung around for a long time against Ohio State on Saturday.
Fresno fell to 2-2 and returns home next week to face San Diego State.