TULSA — The Tulsa Golden Hurricane football team had the feeling, at least in the opionion of its coach, Bill Blankenship, that it had a chance to win the season opener Sept. 1 at Iowa State, but didn't “keep our foot down” as Blankenship described his team's play in that game.
However, Saturday's Conference USA opener against the Tulane Green Wave at Skelly Field at H.A. Chapman Stadium was different as Tulsa prevailed 45-10.
With the exception of the opening defensive possession (in which Tulane scored on a 49-yard field goal by Cairo Santos with 8:31 left in the opening period for a 3-0 lead for the Green Wave lead) and offensive possession (three-and-out), the Golden Hurricane (1-1 overall, 1-0 in C-USA) scored on the next five possessions — all touchdowns — to take a 35-3 halftime lead.
“I thought it was a very aggressive, workmanlike performance," said Blankenship, who formerly coached the Spiro Bulldogs. "We challenged our guys, `Don't wait for the plays to come to you, make something happen.' We played aggressive on defense, got after the quarterback, were able to get several sacks and at least harass him in the backfield. I thought (quarterback) Cody Green performed extremely well (as he was 16-of-26 for 274 yards and two touchdowns)."
However, the game was marred by a horrific injury suffered by Tulane senior safety Devon Walker on the final play of the first half.
Tulsa was leading 35-3 and facing a fourth-and-2 with the ball at the 33-yard line on Saturday when the Golden Hurricane called timeout. Tulane then called timeout.
When play resumed, Green tossed a short pass to Willie Carter, who caught it at about the Tulane 28, and turned upfield. He was tackled around the 17-yard line, with defensive tackle Julius Warmsley and Walker sandwiching him and apparently smashing their helmets together.
Medical personnel from both teams tended to Walker as he lay on the field. FOX Sports reported a hush went over the crowd as Walker was attended to, and that several coaches were in tears as he was taken away in an ambulance. Spectators bowed their heads as someone on the field led the stadium in prayer.
Dr. Buddy Savoie said during a postgame news conference that Walker never completely lost consciousness and was breathing on his own.
Walker suffered a cervical spine fracture. Walker was in stable condition and recovering in an intensive-care unit after a three-hour surgery to stabilize his spine at St. Francis Hospital, said Dr. Greg Stewart, Tulane's director of sports medicine.
"These kind of injuries take 24, 48, sometimes 72 hours to fully declare themselves," Stewart said before the surgery. "We don't know what the long-term implications and outcomes are going to be."
Stewart said he was with Walker on the field, in the ambulance and at the hospital after the injury Saturday. He said Walker was put into a cervical collar and couldn't see much of what was happening, so Stewart explained what was going on. Walker was talking with doctors as he was being treated, Stewart said.
Walker's parents traveled to Tulsa to be with their son, and they were "doing as well as can be expected," Stewart said.
"They're like the rest of us — hopeful and prayerful."
“Our team, our program, our hearts and our prayers go out to that young man,” Blankenship said in his postgame press conference.