NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Justin Willis passed for 267 yards and two
touchdowns to lead the SMU Mustangs to a 33-28 win over Tulane on
Saturday in the Green Wave's first game at the Superdome since
Hurricane Katrina sent them on a season-long road trip.
Willis also ran for 75 yards and a touchdown in front of an
announced crowd of 21,565.
Displaced from New Orleans for all of last season because of the
deadly hurricane, Tulane (1-3, 0-2 Conference USA) was playing its
first game in the Superdome in 22 months. It had played 14
consecutive games on the road since its last home game, a 55-7 loss
to Louisville on Dec. 4, 2004.
"We got caught up in the hype early on," Tulane coach Chris
Scelfo said. "We were overzealous and it hurt us."
SMU (3-2, 1-0) won its third straight game.
Willis, who had completed 77 percent of his passes and thrown
nine touchdown passes the last two weeks, helped offset the passing
of Tulane's Lester Ricard, who overcame a poor first half to go
29-for-48 for 394 yards and three touchdowns.
"I had butterflies (early on)," Ricard said, "because you
want to do so well and so at the beginning of the game you kind of
press and make mistakes you don't normally make."
The Mustangs seemed in command after Willis passed for one
touchdown and ran for another to help build a 17-0 halftime lead.
"He's very competitive," SMU coach Phil Bennett said. "He got
a little bit hurried. He was excited and I think Tulane had a lot
to do with that. They had a good front. But I thought he got back
on track and I thought he made some plays."
Tulane finally got on track when Willis' pass bounced off the
hands of Bobby Chase and was intercepted by David Skehan, who ran
30 yards for a touchdown with 6:36 remaining in the third quarter.
After Thomas Morstead's 23-yard field goal for SMU made it 20-7
early in the fourth quarter, the Green Wave needed just five plays
to drive 90 yards. Ricard threw a 35-yard touchdown pass to Preston
When Morstead missed a 39-yard field goal, Ricard answered with
an 11-yard touchdown pass to Damarcus Davis for a 21-20 lead with
The Green Wave had little time to enjoy the lead because Jessie
Henderson returned the ensuing kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown.
A pass for two points failed, but it didn't matter when the
Mustangs sacked Ricard and recovered his fumble at the Tulane 30 on
the next possession setting up a 19-yard touchdown pass from Willis
to Emanual Sanders with 4:10 remaining.
"Probably even bigger than the kickoff return was the fumble on
the next drive when Tulane had the ball," Bennett said. "I think
that was the difference in the game."
Ricard's 9-yard touchdown pass to Jeremy Williams cut the lead
to 33-28 with 2:33 left, but SMU recovered an onside kick and ran
out the clock.
The Green Wave gave the Mustangs an easy scoring opportunity
when it faked a punt from its end zone midway through the first
Punter Chris Beckman's pass hit Michael Batiste in both hands,
but Batiste dropped the ball, giving SMU the ball at the Tulane
6-yard line. Three plays later, Willis threw a 6-yard touchdown to
The Mustangs increased the lead to 10-0 when Morstead kicked a
34-yard field goal with 6:35 remaining in the second quarter.
Willis' 1-yard touchdown run gave SMU a 17-0 lead with 45
seconds remaining in the first half.