Tulsa 31, Fresno State 24

Saturday, December 31st 2005, 3:57 pm
By: News On 6

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) _ Paul Smith ran 4 yards for the winning touchdown with 2:55 remaining, and Tulsa's defense had two key fourth-quarter interceptions in a 31-24 victory over Fresno State in the Liberty Bowl on Saturday.

Smith, the game's MVP, finished 18-of-27 passing for 234 yards with a 54-yard touchdown pass to Ashlan Davis, but made his biggest play on the ground when he scrambled around three Fresno State defenders and into the end zone to secure Tulsa's first bowl victory since 1991.

Defensive back Anthony Germany set up that play by picking off Paul Pinegar's pass with just under 7 minutes remaining. Smith then led Tulsa on the decisive eight-play, 52-yard drive.

Fresno State had one final chance to force overtime and Pinegar drove the Bulldogs to the Tulsa 42 before his pass toward the sideline was picked off by linebacker Nelson Coleman.

The Golden Hurricane (9-4) then ran out the clock and celebrated their first bowl victory since they beat San Diego State in the Freedom Bowl in 1991.

The victory capped a remarkable turnaround under new coach Steve Kragthorpe, who took over a Tulsa program in 2003 that was coming off 11 straight losing seasons and led it to two bowls in three years.

The Golden Hurricane overcame low expectations this season to claim an unlikely Conference USA championship in their first year in the league, then beat a Fresno State team that gave top-ranked Southern California fits and once was ranked 16th in the nation before sliding into a late-season slump.

Tulsa had to come from behind to beat its former WAC rival, scoring two touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Fresno State took a 24-17 lead on Pinegar's 21-yard touchdown pass to Joe Fernandez on the second play of the quarter.

The Golden Hurricane tied it at 24 two possessions later when Smith found Davis streaking behind the secondary for a 54-yard TD pass.

Tarrion Adams led Tulsa with 102 yards rushing, but most of that came on a 63-yard touchdown burst in the second quarter. That scoring run gave Tulsa its first lead at 14-7 and came about 4 minutes after teammate Uril Parrish tied it by running 22 yards for the Golden Hurricane's first touchdown.

Pinegar finished 19-of-30 passing for 213 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions, while Wendell Mathis had 117 yards rushing and his WAC-best 15th rushing touchdown of the season for Fresno State (8-5), which closed a once-promising year with four straight losses.

Pinegar also was denied in his attempt to become the first quarterback to go 4-0 as a starter in bowl games.

The former WAC rivals traded field goals in the second and third quarters, with Brad DeVault kicking a 41-yarder on the final play of the first half to give Tulsa a 17-14 halftime lead. Fresno State tied it at 17 on Kyle Zimmerman's 27-yard field goal early in the third.

Fresno State backup Bryson Sumlin had a 25-yard TD run late in the first half.

The game is sponsored by AutoZone.