Tulsa's defense, special teams lead to win

Sunday, September 17th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ Last week, Tulsa's football team lost a horse race; this week it won a slugfest.

What awaits Tulsa against Louisiana Tech next week is anybody's guess.

A week after passing for 373 yards in a season-opening 36-26 loss against Oklahoma State, Tulsa quarterback Josh Blankenship managed just 194 yards and led his team to only 10 first downs in a 23-16 win over Rice Saturday.

Instead, it was the Tulsa defense that stepped up, stopping the Owls on a key fourth-and-2 at the 5-yard line early and holding off a late Rice rally.

Tulsa allowed 335 yards by Rice's option attack, but forced three fumbles _ all of which were turned into Chris Earnest field goals.

``We clicked on all three cylinders,'' junior free safety Harold Burgess said. ''...We worked hard on defense all week, stayed disciplined and it showed today.''

Tulsa scored only one offensive touchdown, instead relying on Earnest's leg and a 71-yard punt return for a touchdown by Donald Shoals.

The win was Tulsa's first under head coach Keith Burns.

``Lou Holtz taught me that when you go on the road, you better bring your defense and your special teams,'' Burns said. ``They were both outstanding today. We gave up some yards, but the defense rose up and made plays when it had to.''

Tulsa led 17-6 at the half, before forcing a Corey Evans fumble at the Rice 18 to set up a 25-yard Earnest field goal in the third quarter.

The next time Rice had the ball, Keithan McCory recovered a fumble by Gilbert Okoronkwo at the Rice 45 and Earnest kicked a 42-yard field goal to put Tulsa up 23-6.

But the Owls scored 10 points in the fourth quarter on a 33-yard field goal by Derek Crabtree with 13:06 left and a 12-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Ben Wulf to Okoronkwo with 1:06 remaining.

As time expired, Corey Brown intercepted Wulf's pass at the Tulsa goal line to secure the win.

The victory broke a four-game losing streak dating to last year for the Golden Hurricane.

``We knew this was our conference opener and in order to go to a bowl game, it doesn't matter what we did in non-conference, we have to win our conference games,'' said Tulsa's Ashton Farley.

Next up for the Golden Hurricane is Louisiana Tech (1-3), which lost 34-31 in overtime Saturday to Division I-AA Stephen F. Austin.