TULSA — On Friday morning, it looked like the only two Conference USA football teams who were undefeated — Houston and Tulsa — would mean a good game. For three quarters, it was.
But the Cougars showed the Golden Hurricane that they're for real and deserving of their Top 10 ranking with a 48-16 victory at Skelly Field at H.A. Chapman Stadium.
But for those who watched the game on television, or were in attendance such as I, saw that the Golden Hurricane (8-4, 7-1 in conference play) could play with the Cougars (12-0, 8-0). In fact, for most of the first half, Tulsa led. After Kevin Fitzpatrick (who is now the all-time scorer in Tulsa history with 287 points) kicked a 52-yard field goal with 1:14 left in the opening period, the Golden Hurricane had a 10-6 lead.
In the second quarter, Tulsa Coach Bill Blankenship, who is a Spiro native and former coach of the Bulldogs, decided to gamble. With 10:05 left before halftime, Tulsa had a fourth-down-and-1 at the Houston 18. Instead of letting Fitzpatrick kick a 35-yard field goal (albeit going into a stiff wind), Tulsa went for it and was stopped on downs. While Houston did not score on the ensuing drive, I felt that this started to turn momentum in Houston's favor.
Perhaps the biggest play of the game happened just before halftime. Down 13-10 with less than a minute remaining before halftime, Tulsa was in Houston's red zone. Tulsa quarterback G.J. Kinne hit wide receiver Bryan Burnham over the middle. At the Houston 10-yard line, Burnham was hit by Houston free safety Kent Brooks. The ball popped up into the air, with Brooks' teammate, cornerback C.J. Hayden catching the pigskin at that point, denying Tulsa a scoring chance.
These two plays kept the Golden Hurricane from scoring anywhere from six to 14 points, which likely spelled doom for Tulsa.
“We left 14 points out there on the field in the first half,” Blankenship said. “Those are like turnovers to us. Those (converting on those kinds of opportunities) are the things you have to do if you want to beat a top-10 team.”